Students provide pandemic help through PA National Guard

Published 05.27.2020

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Construction management student Mason E. Blethen and human services and restorative justice student Kristien T. Quintanilla are two of at least three Pennsylvania College of Technology students called to provide emergency support through the Pennsylvania National Guard during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Quintanilla, of Jersey Shore, a combat medic in the Guard, was one of 18 members of the Pennsylvania National Guard who reported to the Broomall Rehabilitation and Nursing Center in Delaware County to assist with staffing shortages. The group, a mix of military nurses and medics, provided routine care to non-acute patients beginning April 18.

Pennsylvania College of Technology student Kristien Quintanilla (fifth from left} is part of a Joint Force Medical Strike Team deployed by Pennsylvania National Guard to assist at a rehab and nursing home in Delaware County. (Photo by Master Sgt. George Roach, courtesy of Pennsylvania National Guard.)Quintanilla fulfilled the duties of a certified nursing assistant at the home.

Blethen, of Colora, Maryland, whose military occupational specialty is machinist/welder, was called into the role of allied health professional at a similar type of facility in the Harrisburg area. At his site, Blethen said, for every medic, there are two “general MOS” personnel – guardsmen who aren’t medics.

“We’re running food, moving trays – and just generally being there to talk to them (residents of the home), because none of their families are able to see them,” he explained. “Our main mission is to help the nurses but also to make sure the patients are seeing new faces and actually being able to talk.”

The National Guard is, as its motto promises, “always ready, always there” – even in unprecedented circumstances like those surrounding the pandemic.

“I always imagined I could be called up for any situation, but did not expect for a pandemic such as this,” said Quintanilla, who has been in the Guard since 2016. “This pandemic called for many protocols that I was unaware of.”

Blethen knew, too, that he could be called up for a situation like this, “but I never expected this to happen. I don’t think anyone thought this would happen.”

They are glad to be helping.

“Seeing it with your own eyes, it feels a lot more real and a lot more serious when you see someone going through it,” Blethen said.

“I feel proud about the way my unit went into Broomall and helped out the facility,” Quintanilla said. “The patients and staff were so thankful of us going in and helping out when they were in dire need of help. It is important that we (the National Guard) stay available, because we never know what could happen with the state and never know who will be in need of our help.”

Blethen chose to join the National Guard, rather than enlisting in active duty, because it provides the opportunity to help close to home.

“I joined the guard to help the community,” the 19-year-old explained. “The community around you – you grow up in it and it shapes who you are. So if you can help those people around you, that’s a good thing.”

The pandemic has helped heighten his sense of community even more.

“It makes you value social interactions,” he said. “It brings people together – we’re all in the same boat.”

During their orders, the students are working 12-hour shifts at the nursing homes, so they’ve appreciated the support of faculty and administration, who have extended deadlines so that assignments can be turned in after they’ve completed their orders.

“My teachers have been understanding and working with me,” Blethen said.

“Juggling classes and military is very tough,” Quintanilla added. “I do appreciate all the support I have received from my professors.”

He cited all of them and especially pinpointed Sarah S. Moore, a human services instructor.

“She has been so helpful on what to do with school and being super supportive,” he said. “She has also been checking up on me and always answering my questions any hour of the night.”

“The school has been so supportive of me being on orders, and I am so thankful for the support and the cooperation of PCT,” he said.

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