The Montana National Guard will deploy roughly 24 members to Missoula next week to help local hospitals deal with a surging number of Covid-19 patients, officials confirmed on Friday.
The city and its medical partners will also keep all options on the table, including the possibility of opening a field hospital if the need arises.
Missoula Mayor John Engen, with support from local hospitals, has been in talks with the state for several weeks now about getting the resources needed to address the rising number of patients, which hit record levels on Thursday.
“We are getting help from the Montana National Guard. Those resources will be deployed here over the course of next week,” Engen said. “We just got word this morning that the Guard would be available to us next week.”
Incident commander Adrian Beck with the Missoula City-County Health Department said the Guard will be deployed under a local management team fielded out of the Emergency Operations Center to aid the citywide response.
The guard will deploy 24 members, she said.
“The needs are obviously with the hospitals. They have staffing shortages for which the Guard resources can be deployed,” she said. “We also expect to have needs within our isolation and quarantine facility at the Sleepy Inn as we expect to see an increased capacity there.”
The city this month reopened the Sleepy Inn, even though it had expected that need would have passed by now.
But with inaction from the state, restrictions on what local health officials can do to protect public health, and a growing number of cases, the non-congregant shelter is back in need, and other facilities like it could follow.
“If we end up having overflow at the non-congregant shelter, there’s potential for using other municipal facilities,” Engen said. “We’re considering all possibilities at this point. At some point, if necessary, we’ve talked about deploying field hospital units to deal with overflow. We need humans with skill to manage all the moving parts here.”
Public health officials on Friday expressed frustration over legislation passed by the state and signed by Gov. Greg Gianforte restricting the tools available to fight the pandemic. While mask mandates and limitations on crowd sizes worked last year to slow the virus’ spread, those tools are no longer available.
As a result, the case numbers are now higher than they’ve ever been in Missoula, and the city’s hospitals are overflowing, forcing health providers to make difficult choices on care.
“A number of jurisdictions, including our own, are considering seeking some sort of court relief so we can have local control over these very challenging local problems, the kind of control we had prior to the last legislative sessions, and the kind of local control many of these legislators say they want from the federal government,” Engen said. “Until the Legislature meets again, or a court takes action, we’re are constrained by the law of the land today.”