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Florida Army and Air Guard medical professionals join forces to fight COVID-19

  • Published
  • By Maj. Jesse Manzano
For the first time in the Florida Guard’s history, medical professionals from the Army and Air Guard have come together in one joint unit. Their mission? Provide medical support in an alternate care facility as part of the state’s COVID-19 response.

The unit’s name is Joint Task Force AID and it is led by Air Guard Col. Patrick Lanaghan, commander of the Florida Air Guard’s 125th Medical Group and a health services administrator, with Army Col. Terry Hashey, a physician with over 15 years of medical experience, as his deputy. Combined, both Guardsmen possess over 50 years of military experience in the medical field, both in active and reserve components.

“When this mission came up, the main hurdle we had to overcome was what our medical professionals would be allowed to do,” Lanaghan said. “We had a lot of learning to do up front, to understand each other’s capabilities. A lot of coordination between the services had to happen from the very beginning.”

JTFA was created in response to the state’s need to quickly staff the Miami Beach Convention Center alternate care facility that was built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The facility, like others built by USACE across the country, was designed to help local hospitals cope with a potential surge in COVID-19 patients and avoid a medical system collapse.

Since coming together in Miami Beach, JTFA has faced some unique challenges. The first one had to do with bridging a training gap. Not all of the Florida Guard’s medical providers work in hospitals, therefore they had to get trained on some basic skills to standardize their operations and bring them to a level of competency that would allow them to perform in a hospital setting.

“Running a hospital isn’t our mission. We aren’t built to do this,” Lanaghan said. “We don’t have a mission or MTOE for a hospital in the National Guard,” added Hashey. “A hospital is more than doctors and nurses, it’s an entire solution. It’s more than just people.”

Fortunately, JTFA was able to team up with Florida International University’s Nursing School and the Army’s Trauma Training Detachment to get the training necessary in record time to meet the standards set for the MBCC ACF.

Another challenge was the ability of Guardsmen to treat civilian patients. While active duty military medical professionals have this authority, JTFA had to rely on a Presidential Order and authorization from the National Guard Bureau to be able to perform their mission.

“The Florida Guard’s medical mission during defense support of civil authorities’ operations is to support our own troops,” Hashey said. “This mission was unique for the Guard. We needed authorization.”

In addition to the federal authorization, the medical professionals from JTFA also received approval from the Florida Department of Emergency Management to act within the scope of their professional licenses to treat civilians.

But medical training wasn’t the only type of support JTFA received while at the MBCC ACF. The task force also relied on the logistical and administrative support of the Florida Guard’s 50th Regional Support Group, the state’s main effort during the COVID-19 response in South Florida.

“The 50th RSG was fantastic. They provided everything we needed to make up our initial shortages,” Hashey said. “We didn’t have a higher headquarters or a logistics support chain, and that’s where the 50th kicked in. They made sure we were ‘zero fail’ and they made sure everything was taken care of so we could focus on our mission.”

In many ways, the mission of JTFA has been groundbreaking. Not only did they bring together Guardsmen from different units and branches, but in doing so they have developed a set of operating procedures that can be replicated in future Florida National Guard missions.

With JTFA, the Florida Guard has proven that it can identify the medical resources it has available – both Air and Army, mobilize them, create a command and control structure to bring these Guardsmen together, train them to the standards of the specific mission and sustain them.

“I’ve been most impressed with the integration between the Army and the Air Guard,” Lanaghan said. “We bring such different skill sets and capabilities to the table, and to be able to integrate them so seamlessly in this very complicated mission has been a success in itself.”