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Wright-Patterson medics deploy to Guyana

  • Published
  • By John Van Winkle
  • 88th Air Base Wing
Medical expertise from the 88th Surgical Operations Squadron here was deployed to provide medical procedures for patients in Guyana. Their deployment to Guyana was part of a larger U.S. Southern Command New Horizons exercise, which ran from May 13 to August 22 in Guyana.

New Horizons is an annual event conducted with a partner nation in Central America, South America or the Caribbean to improve joint training readiness of U.S. and partner nation civil engineers, medical professionals and support personnel through humanitarian assistance activities.

Wright-Patterson supported New Horizons through the deployment of 13 personnel from the 88th Surgical Operations Squadron to Linden, Guyana beginning May 22 and departing June 9th.

“When we first got there, we were expecting to just tour the host hospital the first day, and then we were going to go into the clinic the second day and start screening patients,” said Lt. Col. (Dr.) Bob Smith, the Chief Operating Room Nurse for the mission. “But the hospital administrator came to us right when we got off the bus and said ‘no we’ve got 25 patients in the clinic right now’, so we adapted.”

Those 25 patients marked the start of nine days of performing OB/GYN patient evaluations, surgeries, and post-operation clinic visits. The host hospital was the Linden Mackenzie Hospital, a medium-sized public hospital similar to a small community hospital in the United States.

“They only had two operating rooms and they turned those over to us to handle the full operating schedule plus emergency add-ons the host hospital had,” said Smith. “We basically maximized their potential for the whole time we were there.” The Wright-Patterson team performed 39 surgeries and a total of 129 medical procedures.

“Here on station, if you’re a staff provider like myself, I might operate two or three days a month,” said Lt. Col. (Dr.) Jason Massengill, Women’s Health medical director at Wright-Patterson Medical Center. “In Linden, we were operating five days a week, for nine days. It was intense and high-paced. It can only be done when you have good ancillary support on location with the host hospital recruiting patients, getting patients pre-operative assessments, making sure they’re good candidates for surgery, then as the team comes in, we screen to make sure everything is appropriate, then schedule the surgeries.”

Having support of the 88th Medical Group and 88th Air Base Wing was integral to the success of the deployed medical mission, said team members.

“In my experience, if you have a group that comes from the same location, with support of the local command to deploy as a team and they already know each other and know how to work with each other, it is remarkably effective and efficient,” said Massengill. “So having the support from the 88th Medical Group and the 88th Air Base Wing was incredibly important to the success of this mission. We truly changed the lives of many people there.”

During New Horizons, teams of Army and Air Force medical personnel, working alongside host nation medics and non-government organizations, provided services in family health, women’s health, dental, veterinary, dermatology, optometry, physical therapy, dietician and pediatrics to the local Guyanese, ultimately treating 9,575 patients.

Army and Air Force civil engineers also made an impact during New Horizons, by working side-by-side with the Guyanese people to construct three community centers and a women’s shelter.

The impact of New Horizons was also acknowledged by the President of Guyana, David A. Granger. During a visit to the U.S. Embassy in Georgetown, President Granger addressed the importance previous New Horizons exercise iterations and the current one have for the Guyanese people.

“Guyana continues to benefit from the United States Southern Command New Horizons series of projects which began 15 years ago,” said Granger. “The current project has contributed to Guyana’s public health and public education systems, to the building of clinics, community centers, schools and the hosting of medical outreaches, all of these promote peace and stability and augment the development of the social infrastructure, so necessary to improving citizen’s quality of life”.

New Horizons is an annual U.S. Southern Command training and humanitarian exercise that is led by Twelfth Air Force (Air Forces Southern) in various countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. This was the third time that the New Horizons exercise had taken place in Guyana, having previously occurred there in 2004 and 2009.