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    Appalachian Care 2019 medical services benefit public health needs, military readiness

    Appalachian Care 2019 medical services benefit public health needs, military readiness

    Photo By Capt. Andrew Layton | Air National Guard Lt. Col. Michael Chapman, physician, 110th Medical Group, Battle...... read more read more



    Story by 1st Lt. Andrew Layton 

    110th Wing

    WISE, Va. – “You are volunteering your time to help us and we can’t thank you enough for helping us get the training that brings your loved ones home.”

    Air National Guard Lt. Col. Michael Chapman, a physician assigned to the 110th Medical Group, Battle Creek, Michigan, is speaking to a group of approximately 50 people – young, old, from all walks of life – gathered at the gates of Wise County Fairgrounds in rural southwestern Virginia. It’s the early morning of Aug. 22 and these citizens are first in line for the day to receive no-cost health care delivered by medical specialists from the U.S. Air National Guard, Air Force, Army, Army Reserve, and Navy Reserve.

    This unique military training mission, known as Appalachian Care 2019, is organized under the Department of Defense’s Innovative Readiness Training (IRT) program and falls under the Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Reserve Integration. It is a synthesis of optimization, bringing together more than 130 military medical specialists to receive hands-on readiness training while providing sorely needed dental, optometry, veterinary, and general medical care to the underserved public of Appalachia.

    “Right now, we have three M.D.s seeing patients, we have a pharmacy so the doctors can order prescriptions, and we can order simple lab work,” said U.S. Army Reserve Capt. Tiffany LaMarca, a nurse assigned to the 301st Field Hospital, St. Petersburg, Florida. “If we see anything from triage that is off, like a vitals sign, blood sugar, or something that’s more elevated or lower than we’d like it, we bring them to medical first before they see their specialty.”

    Partnering with the Appalachian Care IRT mission is The Health Wagon, a nurse practitioner-managed 501(c)(3) nonprofit that provides clinical services throughout Virginia’s western counties. The Health Wagon initiated a request for assistance from the IRT program to bring military medical services to this region, one of the most economically-challenged in America.

    While most patients seen by clinicians at Appalachian Care come for dental and optometry care, these initial screenings are arguably most important because of their potential to identify latent maladies. If vectored to a precautionary visit with an M.D. before going on to the optometry or dental clinics, a patient’s life could be saved.

    “We can educate, we can capture illnesses in people who maybe have not known they are diabetics or have high blood pressure,” LaMarca said. “A patient may mention something that doesn’t seem that important to them, but it rings a bell for us.”

    Inside the makeshift medical clinic, livestock stalls have been fashioned into partitioned exam rooms, impressively clean and well-appointed for the circumstances. U.S. Navy Reserve Cdr. Phil Self, a physician assigned to Expeditionary Medical Facility Dallas One, Ft. Worth, Texas, has just finished seeing a patient who until today hadn’t known she was a diabetic.

    “For the most part, the people we’ve been seeing this week are basically good, church-going people,” he said. “But the thing I’ve been most impressed with is their total honesty: many patients have shared openly about their struggles with opioids, prison, and of course, we’ve seen a lot of men who’ve developed black lung far too early from working in the mines.”

    Self has traveled an interesting road from his hometown in Oklahoma, where he has practiced medicine since the mid-1980s. He joined the Navy at age 44 after the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and is a prime example of how a physician in the reserve forces of the U.S. military can bring decades of civilian experience to a mission like Appalachian Care – not only for the benefit of patients, but as a trainer and mentor to other military providers.

    “I remember making the rounds at the hospital and I looked up at a TV just as the second plane hit the World Trade Center,” Self said. “I told one of the nurses, ‘this is our generation’s Pearl Harbor.’ I called the Navy recruiter on September 13th.”

    Nearly eighteen years later, Self still stands behind the choice he made.

    “It’s been a life-enhancing thing,” he said. “This fills a hole that would otherwise be empty for me.”

    For reasons far beyond any initial feelings of personal satisfaction, U.S. military personnel at Appalachian Care are saying their experience here is as valuable to them as specialists as it is dynamic. In the clinic’s first four days of operation, more than 500 patients have been served with dental, optometry and medical care, plus an additional 150 veterinary patients. In this environment, reserve Airmen, Soldiers, and Sailors are training on live patients, whereas at home station medical drills are often performed on mannequins.

    “In the training we usually do at home, everything is notional, kind of like you’re playing a game,” said U.S. Army Reserve Spc. Jason Pochebyt, pharmacy specialist, 301st Field Hospital, St. Petersburg, Florida. “That training prepares us for what we’re doing here, where it’s real life and we’re experiencing real patient care. In this environment, it takes those fundamentals to the next level.”

    Similarly, Appalachian Care’s integrated, joint-service environment offers specialists the opportunity to build relationships and interoperability with colleagues from other service branches. It all adds up to a greater diversity of experience and knowledge to increase a specialist’s scope of care.

    “As Navy corpsmen, we have a lot of training in the basics, but this is a good refresher,” said U.S. Navy Reserve Hospital Corpsman 1st Class Francisco Hernandez, field medical technician, Operational Health Support Unit San Diego, California. “Since corpsmen have to be so versatile, at any point we could go somewhere and this knowledge will be in the back of my mind so I can apply it wherever I’m at.”

    Chapman projects that by the time Appalachian Care’s clinic closes on Aug. 26, more than 2,000 patients will have received no-cost care equaling more than a million in services provided. Still, he reiterates that the value is mutually-beneficial, worth at least as much to the training and readiness of U.S. military personnel.

    “When we forward deploy, we have to be able to provide the services necessary to keep our people in the fight and get them home,” he said. “The people of Appalachia are providing an incredible service to us by volunteering their time, which in turn allows us that opportunity to hone in our skills and deliver better care.”



    Date Taken: 08.22.2019
    Date Posted: 08.22.2019 12:55
    Story ID: 336923
    Location: WISE, VA, US 

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