‘Semper Gumby’: National Guard get ready to help address healthcare worker shortage

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — New York National Guard troops coming to the Rochester area to help deal with COVID-19, and a medical manpower crunch, say they’re ready for anything because the pandemic has taught them to be.

"Everybody, by now, knows the old saying of ‘Semper Gumby,’” sighed Eric Durr, with the New York National Guard.

For Guard members "Semper Gumby" is an unofficial slogan meaning "always flexible." And they’ve had to be, through the course of the pandemic, from handling COVID paperwork at the Frederick Douglass-Greater Rochester’s airport to setting up a field hospital in New York City’s Javits Convention Center.

“The entire COVID experience has been one of doing unexpected and new things,” Durr explained.

Now Gov. Kathy Hochul’s emergency declaration will dispatch 120 guard medics across the state to provide manpower for local health systems struggling to keep up.

"And the largest delegation is coming right here to Rochester,” declared Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin, to loud applause, during a visit to Rochester on Thursday.

Twenty-six guard medics, in two-person teams, will go to Finger Lakes area facilities, probably nursing homes, depending on where the New York State Department of Health and the local medical community needs them.

They’ll be medically trained, but not people working in health care now, because taking them off their day jobs would be counterproductive.

"They are trained to the level of EMT,” Durr said. “That means they can give injections. They can put an IV in, obviously, they can do other things. Army medics are trained to do all this while people are shooting at them."

The Guard says the troops coming to the Rochester area can be from anywhere, not necessarily from this area, that they’ll be ready to do just about anything needed and that COVID has been a far cry from their usual repertoire of tornadoes, hurricanes, floods blizzards or any other disasters they’ve seen.

“Ever since March 2020, we’ve never known what the mission would be. And we’ve done great at it,” Durr said.

Benjamin predicted the troops would be arriving in the Rochester area on Saturday.