JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska —
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the 673d Medical Group has been fighting the battle on the front lines here in the Last Frontier.
These frontline workers have risen to the unprecedented challenge to ensure mission readiness as well as providing safe medical care for personnel and their families.
As Alaska’s case count rises, 673d MDG personnel urge the public to continue to do their part to slow the spread of COVID-19.
“We cannot afford to become complacent,” said U.S. Air Force Capt. Elena Lages, the officer in charge of the 673d MDG’s respiratory clinic. “Even though most people recover safely, it is still hospitalizing a significant number of people. The more people ignore guidelines, the more people need testing and are ultimately unable to support the mission.”
To support the fight against COVID-19, the 673d MDG has streamlined the process for testing on the installation by standing up a drive-thru respiratory clinic to ensure a safe, fast way to test patients.
“The respiratory clinic has a big mission,” Lages said. “It was created from scratch to support an unprecedented pandemic. The staff here work extremely long hours to keep the base running. We are just as tired as the general public of the longevity and restrictions of the pandemic, but we are here for you.”
After the testing is performed, the samples go to the 673d Medical Support Squadron’s laboratory where all of JBER’s samples are processed and either tested on-site or shipped to other testing facilities. The laboratory has tested over 11,000 samples for COVID-19 throughout the pandemic.
“It has been challenging getting the resources and testing capabilities to support the mission,” said U.S. Air Force Capt. Karla Workman, the transfusions services chief assigned to the 673d MDSS. “Our lab techs have been working long hours to ensure that we have the capabilities and resources to provide testing for our beneficiaries. They have had the best attitudes and still come in smiling even though they have to readjust schedules, work long hours, and deal with daily process changes.”
Workman notes the importance of patience with the testing process.
“We are working hard and as fast as possible to get COVID results to patients,” Workman said. “Due to the limitations on testing supplies worldwide, not all tests can be performed in-house. Results and notifications take time.”
After a sample comes back positive from the lab, the patient will receive a call from Public Health for a contact-tracing interview. Public Health is responsible for tracking all COVID-19 cases with a tie to the installation and conducts contact tracing on these individuals.
Public Health leadership notes that it is important for members to self-report if they have been tested off the installation so that Public Health can do their job to mitigate the threat on the installation.
“Our unit is very involved with the COVID response here on the installation,” said U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Rachel Jordan, the 673d Operational Medical Readiness Squadron Public Health Flight chief. “We are a small shop that is working hard to track our cases and maintain our focus on when it is safe to get them back to the mission.”
Jordan highlighted the need to continue following the health guidelines.
“As we are interviewing our cases, we are finding that many of our positive cases come from situations where the guidelines weren’t met,” Jordan said. “One of the biggest points we are pushing is making sure people are following the guidelines, especially in their work centers. Not following these basic guidelines could potentially put people’s offices and missions at risk.”
Throughout the process, these workers ask that the community remain patient with the hospital as they work through the challenges the pandemic is posing.
“Please show patience and kindness to our staff,” Lages said. “Your test results will take several days and sometimes the wait time to be tested is long. We have procedures in place to ensure patient safety and conservation of resources.
“For us, being a frontline worker means you cannot rest,” Lages continued. “You rest when the work is done, and the work never stops and we have had to adapt for long-term sustainment. We must remain ready to serve the population’s healthcare needs.”
In light of these challenges, the 673d MDG highlights the need to slow the spread of COVID-19 and the stress it causes on the healthcare system.
“Think about it this way, the impact of one nurse getting sick quickly creates a snowball effect on their unit and makes it hard for us to provide the needed care to those who really need it,” said U.S. Air Force Capt. Myron Acosta, an intensive care unit nurse assigned to the 673d Inpatient Operations Squadron.
Another of JBER’s frontline workers echoed the need for continued vigilance against the threat.
“The little inconveniences of staying home and wearing a mask are worth it to reduce the workload of the healthcare system and to stop the spread to someone who might have an underlying health condition,” Workman said.
Overall, JBER’s Arctic Warriors need to work together to mitigate the threat to mission readiness across the installation and to protect those around them.
“We’re in this together,” Acosta said. “It might not affect you, but it could affect those around you.”