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Deployed medics restructure mission to support pandemic response

  • Published
  • By Samuel King Jr.
A 96th Medical Group surgical team deployed to Niger, Africa, found itself with a challenge as a result of COVID-19. The challenge reinforced the need to remain agile and adjust to prepare for a range of circumstances faced on the African continent.

The team had completely converted into a pandemic response team as quickly as it could to prepare and respond to an unexpected mission change. Medics are in the business of caring for and protecting the force. COVID-19 required immediate action to reduce the risk and do their part to contain any potential spread of the virus.

“Military operations are generally more focused on treating trauma and performing damage control surgery, rather than handling large-scale infectious disease processes,” said Maj. (Dr.) Andrew Hall, 96th MDG. ;“The challenge is changing from a damage control team into an infectious disease containment and treatment team.”

The surgical team consisted of Hall, the surgeon, Maj. (Dr.) Lindsay Morrow, 403rd Wing, the emergency medicine physician, Lt. Col. Michael Dixon, the nurse anesthetist, Capt. Andrew Dennis, the intensive care nurse, Senior Airman David Duncan, the scrub technician and Maj. Kelsey Monasert, the medical planner. Each took on new and different roles as their mission evolved.

Planning and communication began immediately at the base. Personnel were educated on the need to distance, disinfect, and make deliberate decisions in order to ensure the virus, an invisible enemy does not exploit gaps and gain ground

“Population education is essential and a public information campaign to spread credible information on prevention and identification of disease was our solution,” said Duncan.

In order to limit any potential for the virus to enter the ranks, precautionary measures we taken.

Screening of entry points and medical facilities were set up and non-medical personnel were trained to assist in the effort. Anyone with suspected exposure was moved to designated areas for further evaluation by medical staff wearing the proper personal protective equipment.

With limited ability to test for COVID-19 at the beginning, the team tested for other diseases with similar symptoms.

“In our area of operation, influenza and malaria remain prevalent and testable,” said Dennis.

The team also developed and implemented quarantine zones, movement restrictions and evacuation plans.

For treatment, the team analyzed their supplies and long-term care capabilities to operate in this environment. Dixon worked with the fabrication team on base to build an ICU bed out of a bunk bed to assist with care for patients.

“Constant monitoring of the evacuation process, the patient census and condition, and available supplies is critical to determine how to do the greatest amount of good for the greatest number of patients.” said Monsaert.

The team continues to operate and maximize resources. Agility, preparation, and teamwork are at work to ensure protection of the force and the ability to continue the mission.

“Planning and succeeding in a [tough remote] environment is a challenging endeavor,” said Dixon. “Changing from a surgery focused team to an infectious disease response team takes a paradigm shift.”