GRAFTON — A team of six Wisconsin National Guard medics reported to the Village Pointe Commons senior living facility in Grafton late Saturday afternoon, March 21 to augment staff there amid the coronavirus pandemic. An Ozaukee County man in his 90s who was a resident in the memory care unit died as a result of the coronavirus on Thursday, March 19. A long-term caregiver and three additional residents at the facility tested positive for COVID-19.
Officials with the Washington Ozaukee Public Health Department said the man who passed away had underlying health conditions and that he tested positive after he passed away. Kirsten Johnson, health officer with the Washington Ozaukee Public Health Department, said the caregiver who tested positive was isolated at home and has not worked at the facility since March 14. Additional tests of the caregiver and three residents were pending.
According to a news release from the Wisconsin National Guard Sunday, March 22, the team of four Citizen Soldiers and two Airmen were scheduled to be in place for approximately three days while leaders at the facility work to identify a long-term staffing solution.
The Wisconsin National Guard received the request for assistance after the facility’s first COVID-19 death, as well as the additional confirmed cases there.
Serving in this sort of scenario is an example of how the Wisconsin National Guard fulfills one of its core missions of serving the local communities its Citizen Soldiers and Airmen call home, while helping their neighbors and fellow citizens, the release said.
“I think this is why we joined the military, and why we’re part of the National Guard,” said Capt. Heather Schaller in the release — a nurse assigned to the Wisconsin Army National Guard’s Medical Detachment in Camp Douglas, Wisconsin — serving as the officer-in-charge of the mission in Grafton. “A lot of citizens don’t know that the National Guard does stuff like this, so that is kind of an eye-opener too.”
The release noted Schaller also serves a nurse in her civilian occupation at a Milwaukee hospital.
“It’s cool that my job could give me up in order to do something like this and support the National Guard, as well,” she said.
Schaller said her and her team were honored to be a part of the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s rewarding, and it’s the reason why I put on the uniform, and why I joined the Guard,” she said. “I didn’t join to put on the uniform and go to drill every weekend. Now, it’s something where I can actually do something for the community.”
With personal protective equipment (PPE) at a premium, the Wisconsin National Guard personnel dispatched to the facility were using their own military-provided PPE, in hopes of helping preserve the limited amount of PPE available to the medical community. The release said not only does this help preserve PPE stock for civilian medical providers, it is also the equipment with which National Guard troops are accustomed to using and regularly train.
Wisconsin National Guard troops previously assisted with the state’s COVID-19 response by transporting a group of Wisconsin citizens to their homes who were returning from a cruise ship with confirmed cases of COVID-19. Those individuals returned to Wisconsin on two separate flights into Volk Field Combat Readiness Training Center in Camp Douglas, after a weeks-long ordeal where Wisconsin National Guard troops were waiting to take them home.
Death of Robert Blackbird, 91, on March 19
Robert Blackbird, a Village Pointe Commons resident, was just shy of his 92nd birthday when he lost his life as a result of COVID-19.
“We were expecting, at some point, for dad to pass, but I think like anybody, even if you’re expecting it, it’s a bit of a shocker,” said Haly Besaw, Blackbird’s daughter.
Besaw was by his side when he passed away.
“The hospice worker said, ‘I don’t think he has coronavirus,'” said Besaw. “‘I just think it’s where he is naturally.’ One of the nurses said, ‘I think it might be.'”
It turned out to be true. His test for COVID-19 came back positive after his death.
“Instead of going in a couple months, he went in a couple days,” said Besaw.
Health officials said all 12 residents in his unit were being considered presumptive positives, with Washington Ozaukee Public Health officials locking down all long-term care facilities to stop its spread.
“My dad was ready to go, but I think none of us really knew the severity of this, and I think we still don’t know,” said Besaw.
Blackbird, by trade, was a machinist, and Besaw said she was finding joy in knowing the product he brought to so many shelves.
“He made the machines that make toilet paper, so isn’t that funny?” said Besaw. “It just hit me — wow. He was the toilet paper king. There are a lot of people saying, ‘This is political.’ There’s a lot of misinformation. It’s not political. It’s real.”