National Guard to more than double units assisting in COVID-19 response, all nursing home residents and staff to be tested

MADISON, Wis. – As nursing home staff make themselves available to help the at-risk elderly residents they serve, John Vander Meer wants to make sure they have access to some peace of mind.

“Wisconsin’s front-line caregivers are heroes,” Vander Meer said. “They’re doing everything possible under very difficult circumstances to protect the health and safety of the residents they serve with caring hearts and serving spirits.”

As President and CEO of Wisconsin Health Care Association/Wisconsin Center for Assisted Living, which represents hundreds of facilities serving the elderly and intellectually and developmentally disabled across the state, Vander Meer said staff at such providers have faced barriers in getting tested for the virus. He said he’s grateful the State will begin providing free testing to all residents and employees at Wisconsin’s nearly 400 nursing homes.

“Testing availability has been a challenge around the country, including here in the state of Wisconsin. I think the folks at the state level are doing the best they can,” Vander Meer said. “This is something that really the association and provider community has been fighting for for a long time.”

Plans for long-term care facility testing is part of an announcement from Governor Tony Evers outlining goals to increase testing. The plan includes four major goals: test every nursing home resident and staff member, respond to every outbreak throughout the state, establish community testing programs in target communities and make sure everyone who has COVID-19 symptoms gets a test.

The Wisconsin National Guard will be mobilizing additional teams to help in these efforts. According to Capt. Joe Trovato, the Guard already has about 11 mobile groups helping with testing in nursing homes, correctional facilities, factories and communities across the state. Within a week, he said they will add up to 15 additional units.

As part of the Guard’s COVID-19 response, those units will help at drive-through sites in communities throughout the state offering free tests to those with symptoms.

“This is just an instance in which we can support our fellow Wisconsinites and hopefully come out on the other side of this sooner than later,” Trovato said. “The goal across the whole state is to continue to increase the state’s testing capacity. The more that we do that, the closer we are to getting our state back in position where we understand what issues we’re actually facing, and that information is extremely valuable.”