In late January, INTEGRIS Health marked a somber milestone. We were caring for a record high 321 COVID patients within our hospitals statewide. A large majority of those patients were being treated at INTEGRIS Baptist Medical Center in Oklahoma City. Our caregivers were admittedly exhausted and overwhelmed by a seemingly never ending onslaught of patients. Kerri Bayer, the chief nurse executive at INTEGRIS Health, says the pandemic was taking its toll. “We were reaching our breaking point in every sense of the word. Our caregivers felt depleted and defeated. We were short staffed as some of our own were falling ill themselves or having to miss work to take care of family members or children out of school. It was a dark time, and so we reached out to the government for help.”
The Department of Defense, working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, created a special program to assist hospitals across the country – like INTEGRIS Health – who are experiencing difficulties due to the coronavirus. Our application was accepted and help was on the way. (story continues below)

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On Feb. 6, the cavalry arrived in the form of 40 medical airmen from the United States Air Force. Military physicians, nurses, respiratory therapists and techs showed up to serve as temporary reinforcements in response to the COVID-19 omicron surge. “Seeing them arrive was seriously like a scene in a movie,” proclaims Jordan Cash, the chief hospital executive at INTEGRIS Baptist Medical Center. “They were organized and orchestrated and immediately started fighting alongside our frontline workers. They worked side by side with us in the trenches and helped us power through yet another COVID assault.”
The airmen spent one month at INTEGRIS Health, clocking in more than 7,000 clinical hours. “They worked in the emergency department, intensive care units and on regular floors. They took care of both COVID and non-COVID patients alike,” explains Cash. “They eased the workload on our caregivers and allowed for more manageable patient/staff ratios.”
The airmen were on-loan from the Department of Defense for 30 days. “We did have an opportunity to apply for an extension and we would love to keep them here with us forever as permanent members of our team,” confesses Bayer. “But with steadily declining COVID numbers and fewer of our staff missing work due to their own illness or their loved ones being infected… we simply can’t justify keeping them away from their personal lives and families, as much as we selfishly want to.”
There are currently 23 hospitalized COVID patients in the INTEGRIS Health system. The airmen’s last day will be Wednesday, March 9. The hospital is planning a drive-thru clap-out to formally thank the military medical personnel for the critical assistance they provided and say good-bye to some newfound friends. “I simply don’t have the words to tell you what a perfect match this was,” says Cash. “From day one, these military men and women were such a natural fit with our team. They provided more than respite and relief, they re-energized us and made us believe again that we will win this war against COVID-19. So yes, this will be a bittersweet farewell no doubt.”