Military Docs, Nurses and Therapists Rushed to Local Hospitals Hit by Omicron Surge

Gen. Laura J. Richardson discusses COVID-19 care at San Antonio hospital
Connie Thigpen, Baptist Medical Center Intensive Care Unit director (right), discusses COVID-19 patient care with Lt. Gen. Laura J. Richardson during the general’s visit to the San Antonio, Texas hospital, July 21, 2020. (U.S. Army photo by Col. Martin O'Donnell)

U.S. Army North announced the deployment Thursday of four more military medical teams to local hospitals to relieve staff overwhelmed by the surge of the omicron variant of the coronavirus.

The total of 65 doctors, nurses and respiratory therapists will be sent to hospitals in Michigan, Arizona and Pennsylvania where healthcare workers have been grappling with the spike in cases of omicron while still battling the effects of the delta variant.

The military medical teams being deployed consist of professionals who "know what it takes to save lives, alleviate suffering, and defeat this pandemic alongside our federal and community partners," Lt. Gen. John R. Evans, Jr., U.S. Army North commander, said in a press release.

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The latest deployment of military medical teams to combat COVID-19 at civilian hospitals followed the Biden administration's Dec. 21 announcement that an additional 1,000 Defense Department personnel were being readied for mobilization in January and February when the omicron wave is expected to reach its peak.

"Right now, we're still sourcing the requirement, and we're working with interagency to do that appropriately. Then, of course, warning orders and alerts will go out to the services," Defense Department spokesman John Kirby said at a Dec. 21 Pentagon briefing.

During the first surge of the pandemic that began in March 2020, the Army Corps of Engineers set up field hospitals in several cities to handle the overflow of coronavirus cases and the hospital ships Comfort and Mercy were deployed to New York City and Los Angeles respectively.

Those ships and field hospitals received little use, and the military later determined that the best way to assist local hospitals was to dispatch medical teams to relieve overburdened healthcare workers during a surge.

The urgency for assistance was reflected in data compiled by the New York Times and others which showed that 301,000 new daily cases of coronavirus were reported Wednesday -- a record number during the course of the nearly two-year old pandemic.

Since February 2020, the U.S. has recorded more than 53.7 million cases of COVID-19 and 821,000 deaths.

At the request of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, U.S. Army North announced the latest deployments of 15-member Air Force medical teams to Yuma Regional Medical Center in Arizona; the Regional Hospital of Scranton, Penn.; and Mercy Health in Muskegon, Mich. An additional 20-member Air Force team was being sent to WellSpan Surgery & Rehabilitation Hospital in York, Penn. U.S. Army North was tasked by the Pentagon with coordinating the services COVID-19 response.

The military began sending medical teams to assist local hospitals in August and currently seven teams consisting of a total of more than 240 personnel are in five states -- one in Colorado, one in Indiana, two in Minnesota, two in New Mexico and one in Wisconsin, according to U.S. Army North.

The need for assistance to relieve local staff was exemplified by the full-page newspaper ads taken out on Dec. 12 by the chief executive officers of nine Minnesota health care systems to plead for more Minnesotans to get vaccinated.

"We're heartbroken. We're overwhelmed," the ads said. "Our emergency departments are overfilled, and we have patients in every bed in our hospitals. This pandemic has strained our operations and demoralized many people on our teams."

"Now an ominous question looms: will you be able to get care from your local community hospital without delay? Today, that's uncertain," the ads said.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at

Related: DoD Readies 1,000 Troops to Aid in COVID-19 Response Nationwide 

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