Maine and New Hampshire have called in the National Guard to help strained hospitals. Massachusetts might follow.

"I’ll use the National Guard when I think they’re appropriate to do practically anything."

Sgt. Katrina Byrne of the Kentucky National Guard works as a pharmacy technician at St. Claire Regional Medical Center in September in Morehead, Kentucky. Jon Cherry / Getty Images

Gov. Charlie Baker says his administration could potentially follow in the footsteps of two fellow New England states and activate the National Guard to help support strained hospitals amid a sharp increase in COVID-19 patients.

“If there’s a way that we can bring the Guard in and involve the Guard as an ancillary and supportive group to support what’s going on in the health care system, we’ll certainly pursue that and try and put it in place,” Baker told reporters Thursday, according to the State House News Service.

His comments come after the governors of both Maine and New Hampshire announced Wednesday that they would call in dozens of National Guard members in their state to provide non-clinical support at local hospitals.


The two New England states are both seeing record numbers of COVID-19 hospitalizations due to the delta variant-fueled surge this fall, with unvaccinated residents making up a disproportionate number of patients.

Maine Gov. Janet Mills said Wednesday that 75 additional National Guard members would be deployed to nursing facilities and swing bed units that take patients with less serious conditions from hospitals struggling with capacity problems. They’ll also help administer monoclonal antibodies to patients.

In New Hampshire, Gov. Chris Sununu said Guard members will help hospitals with backroom tasks to help free up their internal staff, according to WMUR.

The increasing number of COVID-19 hospitalizations in Massachusetts is still less than a third of the highest levels seen during the spring of 2020, and roughly half as much as the peak during the surge last winter

Still, with 1,239 patients in Massachusetts hospitals due to COVID-19 as of Thursday, the increase has exacerbated a system that was already struggling with staffing shortages and patients with other issues who delayed getting treatment earlier during the pandemic.

According to state data, 8,505 of the 9,103 hospital beds in Massachusetts — or 93.4 percent — were occupied as of Thursday.

Late last month, the Baker administration ordered hospitals with less than 15 percent of beds available to cut back on scheduled, non-urgent procedures.


Since then, there’s been an increase of nearly 500 COVID-19 hospitalizations.

Maine and New Hampshire are hardly the only states to call in the National Guard to provide help at overburdened hospitals. However, it would be a first in Massachusetts, where the Guard members have helped with a number of other pandemic-related initiatives, from school transportation and COVID-19 testing to the vaccine rollout to logistics during the initial response in March 2020.

“By this point in time in the pandemic, I think it should be pretty clear to everybody that I’ll use the National Guard when I think they’re appropriate to do practically anything,” Baker said Thursday, according to WBZ.

Baker said his office had been discussing the possibility of providing help to hospitals with the state’s National Guard, but said he wants to be careful about potential impacts on members who work in healthcare for their day jobs

“I don’t want to end up in a situation where I literally take people who, as civilians, are doctors and nurses and folks like that out of the existing health care system,” Baker said, according to the news service.

The National Guard also helped re-establish a field hospital in Worcester in November 2020, at a time when statewide COVID-19 hospitalizations were almost 50 percent lower than current levels, though it was also before the vaccine, much less boosters, were even publicly available.


According to the State House News Service, Baker said Thursday that he had “no plans at this particular time to pursue field hospitals.”

However, he also isn’t closing that door.

“We talk to the hospitals two or three times a week about capacity generally and are going to continue to do that going forward,” Baker said. “And if we need to make adjustments based on those conversations, I think we’ve demonstrated over the past two years we will.”


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