UNION GROVE, Wis. — Sargent James Folger served in the South Dakota National Guard. His son, Marshall, said his dad has always been a humble man and was proud of his service.
Later in life, Srgt. Folger develop Alzheimer's. After his family couldn't manage his care on their own any more, he moved into the Union Grove Veterans Home. That was three years ago.
"It was hard to put him in the VA. It was very hard, because I had been taking care of him for six months," said Srgt. Folgers wife, Marcia Folger.
The Folger family said the care at the facility was great and the nurses were wonderful. But that changed when the COVID-19 pandemic began.
"People left, quite because of either the COVID policies or they had COVID," Marshall said. "They never started replacing people the way they should."
Marshall said staff shortages took a toll on his dad's care as his Alzheimer's progressed.
"When we would go previously before that, dad would talk all the time. He would talk too. When we got back, when were able to go see him, dad didn't say anything. He rarely communicated," Marshall said.
In November of 2021 the Wisconsin National Guard was dispatched to various facilities, including Union Grove, to help with COVID-19 staffing shortages. More were dispatched in January. Earlier this year the guard said members were receiving two weeks of CNA training.
According the Wisconsin National Guard, 16 members are still at Union Grove, but are set to leave on May 15.
Major Joe Trovato told TMJ4 via email:
"The Wisconsin National Guard’s presence at all healthcare facilities was always intended to be temporary in nature to assist the state in addressing the Omicron variant surge while simultaneously helping to alleviate staffing shortages at a critical time. The end of this mission was long-planned and based on the end of federal funding to support the Wisconsin National Guard’s mobilization in support of the pandemic."
However, the scheduled departure is raising red flags with some republican state lawmakers.
In a letter to Gov. Tony Evers, State Senator Van Wanggaard (R-21st District) and State Representative Robin Vos (R-63rd District) expressed their concerns about a lack of a plan following the withdrawal of the Wisconsin National Guard from the facility in Union Grove.
"There's no game plan in place as to how are we going back-fill those guys we're taking out," Sen. Wanggaard said in an interview with TMJ4 News.
The Governor's Office said in an email to TMJ4 the departure is based on the federal authorization for the National Guard's COVID-19 response, which is set to end July 1.
Both sides seem to agree that ultimately the National Guard is not a long-term solution to the persistent staffing shortage at Union Grove.
But the Folger family said the National Guard never really was a solution.
When asked if they've seen a change in care since the National Guard arrived at the facility, Marshall and Marcia said no.
"It's not that they weren't trying to help, but they just were not trained," Marcia said.
The Folger's said they feel the nurses and CNA's at the facility are stretched thin and that really concerns them.
"Somebody is going to needlessly get hurt and pass away from it without having the adequate supervision," Marshall said.
He's calling on the state to invest in better health care for Wisconsin veterans.
"I would like to see the state legislature address this problem, reallocate money to this problem, and make our state veterans that in the three state VA's a little more comfortable and have better health and care," Marshall said.