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Montana Strong! Heritage Center Administrator Lisa Leck, left, poses with nursing students, Demiri Moore, front, Maggie Chrisman, Olivia DeBourg and Sheldon Fladland, along with National Guard members, Victoria Garrido and Shane Murphy, all of whom are currently helping ease the workload at Marias Heritage Center and MMC.

They responded to the need for help months ago and they have returned to help yet again. The Montana National Guard Rapid Response team for Covid-19 has sent Captain Dan Bushnell and team members, Shane Murphy and Victoria Garrido, to help out wherever help is needed at Marias Heritage Center and Marias Medical Center. 

The outside help doesn’t stop there. With so many nurses, CNAs and other medical professionals being spread thin Montana Disaster and Emergency Services (MT DES) also sent out a call for help, in email form, to nursing students across the state to help fill in some much-needed gaps. Four of those nursing students are currently helping out in Shelby as well.

“We just answered an email,” said Sheldon Fladland, when asked how the process worked. “We didn’t know where we would be going, but figured if they are in enough need to be sending out an email to nursing students then we should do it.”

Even if it meant there was a chance they wouldn’t be home for Christmas, these young women and man came to help and have been doing everything from calling Bingo, to manicures, to pneumonia shots to simply spending time and visiting with the residents.

“I love it! I think it’s wonderful,” said Lisa Leck, Heritage Center administrator. “We’ve had them help give injections and deliver meals, as well as many other tasks. It’s been fun having them!”

The same can be said about Garrido and Murphy, of the National Guard. Both knew when they signed on that there would be missed holidays and other sacrifices, but both smile as they go about their day, doing what they can to help at the facility.

“I plan to be here until Dec. 12,” said Garrido. “But I’m also prepared to be here longer. There are no guarantees of going home for Christmas, we knew that when we signed the contract. We knew we’d miss events and holidays, but the efforts and what we are doing outweigh the sacrifice.”

Garrido comes from the Kalispell area and has an 18-month-old son who is currently being cared for by his father and her mother. Working with residents at the Heritage Center is nothing new for her as her other uniform is that of a CNA, something she truly enjoys.

“I’m a CNA when not in uniform and before coming here I had been in Chinook at their nursing home. I enjoy learning and seeing different facilities and I really enjoy getting to know the people.”

Technology has made being away from home and her son a bit easier. Garrido video chats with him every evening and even brought one of his bedtime story books with her, so she can read him a story at night via video chat. While missing her son and the rest of her family while she’s gone on yet another mission Garrido feels good about what she is doing.

The same can be said for Murphy, who is from Stevensville, and may not make it home in time to spend Christmas with his parents. Murphy’s skills as a tech guy have proven invaluable as he has helped with the call system at the Heritage Center and other tasks. He shared that as a guardsmen it is his duty to respond to a community when it is in need, something he truly enjoys.

“It’s our duty as guardsmen,” said Murphy. “We will come when a community is in need. I’ve been enjoying my mission. I was previously at the Deerlodge Prison, that was an experience! Now I’m here. I love being a Montanan helping Montanans.”

Last, but certainly not least, is Captain Bushnell, who insists “I’m not important, talk to them (Murphy and Garrido), they are the important ones.” Bushnell is the Chief Public Affairs Officer and has been serving his country for 34 years! His family is in Helena and after so many years of service it comes as no surprise Bushnell may not make it home for the holidays.

“I’ve spent more holidays away than at home,” admitted Bushnell. “I’ve seen a lot of things over the years but this pandemic has been the worst thing since Katrina. Because the Heritage Center needed assistance DES said nursing students. I think it’s been great how this has been able to alleviate some stress and was a very innovative way to solve the healthcare professional shortage. All of us are working together.”

Away from home and their loved ones during the holidays, the team of nursing students and the National Guardsmen are still smiling and happy to come help out any way they can. It’s easy to look at all the let-downs and negatives the Covid-19 pandemic of 2020 has brought, but it’s just as easy to find some heartwarming good as well. Just take a look around you, be grateful and be sure to thank those who have left their loved ones to come and help yours.

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