Air Force medics from Andrews treat patients at Cleveland Clinic

  • Published
  • By Shireen Bedi
  • Air Force Surgeon General Public Affairs

In January and February of this year, twenty Air Force medics deployed to Cleveland Clinic in Ohio to provide support to one of the world’s elite medical facilities, working alongside their medical staff to ensure all patients received the care they needed.

Although COVID-19 hospitalizations are recently trending downward, hospitals continue to request additional support through the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The medics from Joint Base Andrews in Maryland answered that call, including pulmonologists, primary care providers, trauma nurses, respiratory technicians and administrators.

“Our medics have been on the front lines of COVID-19 for the past two years and have been tasked to go above and beyond to deliver highly reliable Trusted Care both at home and in civilian hospitals across the country,” said U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. John DeGoes, Air Force Deputy Surgeon General. “Every facility we have worked with is important, and being welcomed into Cleveland Clinic is no exception. It was an honor to have our medics welcomed into a globally recognized healthcare center of excellence.”
 

“Our medics got the opportunity to save lives and hone the skills they needed. It was a rewarding experience that further improved their readiness for any contingency. It proved that not only were they ready to respond to COVID, but also that they continue to remain ready for the next challenge.”

– U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. John DeGoes, Air Force Deputy Surgeon General

For Capt. Isha Bedenfield, a post-anesthesia care and clinical nurse with the 316th Medical Group at Joint Base Andrews, it was important for her to lend her expertise and previous COVID-19 experience to collaborate with providers and give the best care possible.

“The past few years have been challenging for all Americans,” said Bedenfield. “Hospitals have been short staffed, and Cleveland Clinic was no exception. By working side-by-side with medics at Cleveland Clinic, it demonstrates that we can be depended on to provide relief when necessary.”

What stood out for the medics who deployed to Cleveland Clinic was how welcomed they were by their staff and how they quickly integrated with their team.

“I was very impressed by the efforts made by the Cleveland Clinic staff to ensure that our deployment was a success,” said Bedenfield. “One of the moments that stood out to me the most was the warm reception we received. Walking through the doors of the clinic while being cheered by the men and women that worked at the facility was a proud moment. Being away from home and family is never easy, but knowing our presence was appreciated made it worthwhile.”

Master Sgt. Niguel Pulley, Non-Commissioned Officer in Charge of the Clinic Systems Support Department at Fort Belvoir Community Hospital in Virginia, echoed the same sentiments with his experience.

“It was morale-boosting knowing we could help take care of patients,” said Pulley. “They saw us in uniform and knew we could help with the burden they were experiencing. The hospitality and support we received from Cleveland Clinic was unmatched. It was a collaborative environment and we both learned quite a bit from each other.”

As an administrator, Pulley was able to see a different aspect of COVID-19 and quickly recognized the importance of supporting his medics.

“I had only previously worked at COVID-19 vaccination sites in Maryland, but you read about how bad COVID-19 has been on the news and how it has impacted hospitals across the country,” said Pulley. “So it was eye-opening for me to deploy to Cleveland Clinic and see firsthand all the sick patients that needed our help.

“Going into this deployment, you never know how a medic is going to react to the increased caseload and treating severely ill patients. I wanted to make sure medics had the support they needed to do their jobs. I made sure they had access to mental health services or chaplain services if needed.”
 

“The great thing about being an Air Force nurse is that we consistently train and are provided with many opportunities to sustain our skills so we were ready to go once we were notified. I would say that keeping my skills on the home front, as well as having the mindset that I was in Cleveland to learn as well as support the team, prepared me for my integration with their staff.”

– Capt. Isha Bedenfield, a post-anesthesia care and clinical nurse with the 316th Medical Group at Joint Base Andrews

Every medic is required to remain up-to-date on the skills needed to do their jobs at home station and while deployed, and working within civilian hospitals dealing with COVID-19 surges is no exception. These deployments not only have shown how capable Air Force medics are at providing support, but are also an opportunity to improve on their own readiness.

“As Air Force Medical Service leaders, we always talk about the importance of ensuring our medics are exposed to the right volume and complexity of care,” said DeGoes. “Our medics got the opportunity to save lives and hone the skills they needed. It was a rewarding experience that further improved their readiness for any contingency. It proved that not only were they ready to respond to COVID, but also that they continue to remain ready for the next challenge.”

As Bedenfield explains, her previous training and deployed experience prepared her to deploy with short notice.

“The great thing about being an Air Force nurse is that we consistently train and are provided with many opportunities to sustain our skills so we were ready to go once we were notified,” said Bedenfield. “I would say that keeping my skills on the home front, as well as having the mindset that I was in Cleveland to learn as well as support the team, prepared me for my integration with their staff.

“This deployment strengthened my abilities as a medic. One of the key components of our medical training is readiness. Getting exposure to other medical facilities and experiencing their mode of operation sharpens my abilities as a nurse and ensures that I am able to deliver the best care to my patients regardless of the challenges that may arise.”

For Pulley, every deployment brings with it an opportunity to learn and grow in his own career field. Deploying to Cleveland Clinic was his first in a civilian facility and the experience allowed him to build on lessons learned that he hopes to share with his fellow administrators.

“I have been doing this type of work for about 16 years and have deployed twice overseas, so it comes natural to me, but there is always an opportunity learn and be better,” said Pulley. “At Cleveland Clinic, I worked as a liaison between our team on site and Joint Base Andrews sending up the reports they needed. One thing I learned is that you never know what you are going to get on a day-to-day basis. You never know if something happens and someone can’t make a shift. Your job is to ultimately take care of your team.”

The Cleveland Clinic deployment was one of many COVID-19 deployments for Air Force medics. Currently, there are still 20 Air Force teams deployed to civilian hospitals across the country who are still seeing a surge in hospitalizations. Since the beginning of the year, the Air Force has sent a total of 24 teams to support civilian hospitals.

“I am honored that our medical Airmen have been asked to be part of the 1,000 military medics responding to this current surge,” said Lt. Gen. Robert Miller, U.S. Air Force Surgeon General. “Every mission is important and an honor to serve, but when you get to help your fellow citizens in the midst of a once-in-a-100-year pandemic, it is a significant moment. Not only have our medics kept our key Air Force mission going, they continue to show those outside of the Air Force exactly what they are capable of. They deserve much more than my thanks and gratitude. They represent the best of the Air Force and I believe we will be looking back at this time and be reminded of the incredible difference they have made across the country for a long time.”