Feature   Defense News

BAMC Personnel Deploy Far and Wide to Support COVID-19 Response

June 15, 2020 | BY Lori Newman , DOD News

Service members are used to deploying to austere locations in support of military or humanitarian missions around the world, but for many, the COVID-19 pandemic brought their first opportunity to fight an invisible enemy on U.S. soil.

More than 75 military medical personnel have deployed from Brooke Army Medical Center, at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston, Texas, to hard-hit areas such as New York, Seattle, Guam and other locations to help fight COVID-19, with 20 more on standby, ready to deploy.

Nearly 40 health care professionals from BAMC deployed to New York City from March 27 to May 11. They joined a team of 800 Army and Navy medical personnel to help transform the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center into a medical shelter to treat non-COVID patients.

Army doctor in uniform poses for a photo.
Surgeon Snapshot
Army Lt. Col. (Dr.) Guy Clifton, a general surgeon at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center alternate care facility in New York City, has provided assistance to hospitals throughout the city’s five boroughs, identifying hospital personnel and equipment needs and assisting in patient care.
Photo By: Army Pfc. Genesis Miranda
VIRIN: 200422-A-LA480-1001D

The Javits Center, in conjunction with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the New York State Health Department, was initially intended to be a COVID-free medical overflow facility. However, the mission shifted when they began providing care to COVID-positive patients in early April.

''Our main effort was to turn the Javits Center, in just one week, from an empty convention center into a 2,500-bed field hospital to alleviate the huge burden on the local hospitals,'' explained Army Lt. Col. (Dr.) G. Travis Clifton, the chief of general surgery and a surgical oncologist at BAMC. ''I was familiar with a field hospital, doing deployment medicine and being adaptable to austere conditions, but setting up a convention center with a different mission than that type of unit is designed to do, one that involved treating American civilians, required a lot of adjustments.'' 

Clifton and a few other physicians took on the role of liaison officers and immediately began visiting some of the hardest-hit city hospitals to explain the Javits' capabilities and to facilitate transfers. 

Army Maj. Caissy Goe, a critical care nurse with BAMC, took on an administrative role to help with problem solving and finding best practices.

People wearing personal protective equipment check in a patient.
COVID Response
Army Capt. Tim Katoski, left, a physician assistant with the 9th Hospital Center, Fort Hood, Texas, receives one of the first COVID-19 patients at the Javits New York Medical Station, April 3, 2020.
Photo By: Army Maj. Foster Knowles
VIRIN: 200403-A-FO307-875

''Basically, we had this big bay with individual cubicles for each patient,'' Goe said. ''So, each patient had their own space, but they weren't sealed rooms. That's a little different from what you have in a hospital where you can shut a door and it has a roof and four walls and the patient can be isolated.''

''Keeping everyone safe was our biggest priority,'' Goe explained. ''People had to wear their [personal protective equipment] the entire time they were in that space.''

In just over a month, the Javits Center treated nearly 1,100 patients.

''I definitely think there are health care heroes, and I would categorize the staff who were working directly with these patients as the true health care heroes,'' Goe said. ''I got to do my job, which was really to support them to provide the best patient care, but they were the ones who were at the most risk the whole time.''

One of those health care heroes was BAMC critical care nurse Army Maj. Sunnie Murray, who worked in direct patient care and filled the role of a nursing supervisor.

I definitely feel we made an impact and were able to put our skills to good use.''
Army Lt. Col. (Dr.) G. Travis Clifton, chief of general surgery and a surgical oncologist at BAMC

''I was ensuring the teams — the nurses, the medics, the respiratory therapists — had what they needed,'' Murray said. ''It is like an invisible enemy. It's a novel coronavirus, so you want to take every precaution to ensure the force is being protected. When we got there it's like a switch [was turned on]. It's go time. We all just worked together to accomplish the mission.''

The staff worked 12-hour shifts, six days a week.

''One of the greatest joys was when you could see your patient discharged and get to go home,'' Murray said. ''The convention center was so large, when you would start hearing clapping then you knew someone got to go home. That was awesome!''

''I definitely feel we made an impact and were able to put our skills to good use,'' Clifton added.

Goe agreed.

''I was really glad I had the opportunity to go and help the American people in America,'' she said. ''You can't get any closer than that as far as supporting this country at a time of need.''

Sailors wearing masks disembark from a ship.
Masked Exit
Sailors assigned to the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt depart the ship to move to off-ship berthing, April 10, 2020. Upon arriving in Guam on March 27, The Theodore Roosevelt established an emergency command center, initiated a roving and deep cleaning team, and continually educated the crew on social distancing and proper protective procedures and behaviors to assist the crew in mitigating and controlling the spread of COVID-19.
Photo By: Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Chris Liaghat
VIRIN: 200410-N-CH038-1120D

Meanwhile, on the other side of the country, 17 BAMC military health care personnel assigned to the 627th Hospital Center deployed to Seattle for about three weeks to set up a 148-bed hospital within the convention center attached to CenturyLink Stadium.

''Our mission was to support the local hospitals by taking non-COVID patients to ease their burden, so they could focus their equipment, supplies, and personnel on COVID patients,'' explained Army Capt. Pamela Sisler, a perioperative registered nurse with BAMC.

The field hospital closed before admitting any patients due the local hospitals' ability to support their patient load without external assistance. 

''Though our mission changed several times, and it was not always clear what the expectations of us were, my colleagues and I maintained motivation and positivity because we just wanted to help the city however we could,'' Sisler said. 

''We were surrounded by support, and the citizens of Seattle were thankful to have us there,'' she said. ''We received hundreds of hand-sewn masks from people in the community, which really brightened our days and showed us that the people were appreciative of what we were doing.''

An infectious diseases physician from BAMC deployed to Guam in support of the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt's COVID-19 response.

Soldiers pack gear into a military truck.
Pandemic Pack Up
Soldiers with the 10th Field Hospital, 627th Hospital Center, Fort Carson, Colo., pack up gear in the wake of a stateside deployment to Washington state, March 27, 2020. The 627th HC supported local hospitals affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Photo By: Army Pfc. Ashton Empty
VIRIN: 200327-A-XI191-400

Army Maj. (Dr.) Gadiel Alvarado served as the infectious disease expert for the COVID-19 Public Health Task Force, April 12-22. The team of five Army officers was there to perform a comprehensive and multidisciplinary review of processes, assess the current situation and help with mitigation plans surrounding the ship's COVID-19 outbreak.

The 10-day mission consisted of doing face-to-face interviews, data gathering, on-site evaluations, discussions and recommendations to the Joint Regions Marinas leadership working closely with Navy Rear Adm. John Menoni, the Joint Regions Marinas commander, and personnel from the Roosevelt, Navy Base Guam and U.S. Naval Hospital Guam to prevent further transmission of the virus.

Other BAMC personnel assigned to the 115th Field Hospital are currently supporting U.S. Central Command in the fight against COVID-19.

''We are always in a readiness mode,'' Murray said. ''No matter what the challenge or the next mission, we are going to be ready to attack it know matter what. That is what we are here to do. When we're called, we answer. It's as simple as that.''

(Lori Newman is assigned to Brooke Army medical Center.)