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There are 30 guardsmen on active duty providing medical staff assistance in Northwest and Central Arkansas during the covid-19 pandemic, according to the Arkansas National Guard.

One of the medics assigned to the Washington Regional Medical Center in Fayetteville called 911 so that a patient, who was struggling to breathe while on the phone with a nurse, could be picked up and taken to a hospital, said Lt. Col. Brian Mason, an Arkansas National Guard spokesman.

"We are making a positive difference," he said.

Nine soldiers were sent last week to Washington Regional, according to the Guard. That total was added to the number of guardsmen already assigned to various units in Central Arkansas during the pandemic.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced during a news conference this month that soldiers from the 142nd Field Artillery Brigade were being sent to assist staff members at the hospital's call center. The brigade is headquartered in Fayetteville.

[CORONAVIRUS: Click here for our complete coverage » arkansasonline.com/coronavirus]

Stephanie Williams, chief of staff for the state Health Department, told reporters that the extra help was needed to help ease the workload on nurses, who need to spend more time caring for patients.

Williams added that the case managers would be "doing things that you don't necessarily have to have a nurse to do."

Mason said Washington Regional is operating two types of call centers -- one that takes calls from people who have covid-19 questions and another that handles contact tracing. Soldiers are assisting at both.

"Those highly trained and capable medics are operating in both call capacities," he said. "They have been able to make an immediate and substantial impact in the operations at Washington Regional in that some 10 nurses are now able to conduct direct patient care to Northwest Arkansans rather than performing administrative services in the call center."

There are several more guardsmen working at the quarantine isolation facility near the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, Mason said. They are there to assist with patient needs and transportation, according to the Guard.

The patients at the isolation facility are those who have tested positive for covid-19 and who don't have a safe place to quarantine, health officials said.

An additional five guardsmen are working at an undisclosed medical supply and personal protection equipment distribution warehouse. Mason said the warehouse is full of equipment, and soldiers are ensuring that the shipments are "going out as fast as they are coming in."

Since the start of the pandemic, there have 127 guardsmen and airmen deployed at various posts across the state, according to the Guard.

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