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News | Feb. 1, 2022

The Real Heroes

By Staff Sgt. Taylor Queen

The effects of COVID fatigue have been felt in healthcare facilities across the state and Peterborough’s Monadnock Community Hospital, which serves seven towns, is no exception.

“It has been really tiring,” said Katharyn Ernst, the hospital's philanthropy and community relations coordinator. “[Our staff] have family, they have lives, and they are working 72-plus hours. They were giving up their holidays and trying to cover shifts for each other.”

Helping ease the burden are six NH guardsmen assigned to the state’s COVID relief mission, Operation Winter Surge.

“We’re here to support the hospital anyway we can,” said Staff Sgt. Tom Blythe, a cook with Joint Force Headquarters. “We’re just trying to make a difference.”

The soldiers assigned to MCH help with food preparation and delivery, patient health screening, material management and administrative work. They also do their best to boost morale.

“My favorite thing is trying to get people to smile,” said sgt. Blake Sullivan of Charlie Company, 3rd of the 172nd Infantry (Mountain) Regiment. “I crack a joke with them, treat them with respect, and just try to get a little smile or laugh.”

The hospital has adapted in many ways since the onset of the pandemic. It has set up a drive-thru testing area, posted health screeners at the entrances, and even created an employee resilience committee.

“We’ve really been focusing on raising morale and lifting the spirits of everyone in the hospital,” Ernst said.

The daily Guard presence has helped.

“People will walk by and say, 'Thank you for your help,' and 'Thank you for your service,'” Sullivan said. “We thank them right back.”

Along the way, the citizen soldiers have also developed a newfound appreciation for hospital staff.

“We’re here for a short time," Blythe said. "But they’re here before, during, and after us. They’re the real heroes.”