PINE RIDGE, S.D. - Sgt. Ashley Hennke, a dental specialist assigned to the 7240th Medical Support Unit out of Kirksville, Missouri, works quickly to set up a tray of utensils to prepare her area for a new patient, and then seamlessly moves to analyze chart information on another. Anything she can do to help her teammates care for the steady stream of patients at the Pine Ridge Hospital Dental Clinic.
In fact, Hennke even made friends with a denture team from Stoney Brook School of Dental Medicine out of Long Island, New York. The denture team provides denture molding to Pine Ridge IHS Hospital during two 2-week rotations. Hennke introduced herself to the denture team, received basic instruction, and has participated in the mold pouring and mounting of the casts.
When asked what was most rewarding for her during her two-week assignment with the hospital, she relayed a story about a patient she helped make dentures for who hadn't had functioning teeth in many years. "I literally helped put a smile on her face. That is the kind of work that makes this mission so worthwhile for me," said Hennke.
Hennke is one of approximately 25 U.S. Army Reserve Soldiers assigned to Army Reserve Medical Command's Central Medical Area Readiness Support Group, who are working in partnership with Pine Ridge Indian Health Service to provide medical care to the local tribal population. The Indian Health Service provides preventive, curative, and community health care for approximately 2.2 million American Indians and Alaska Natives in hospitals, clinics, and other settings throughout the United States.
Everyone supporting the unit has loved the interaction they've had with the staff and their patients.
"Everyone has been so welcoming. In fact, after our lunch break today, a child in the waiting room high-fived three of us as we were walking past him. The staff here have been great! Deb was my preceptor for the first two days and she helped me get through the learning process of the new system. I've witnessed her interaction with multiple patients, and the patients give her hugs and just love her to pieces. To see that strong relationship between her and the patients was a good thing for me," said 1st Lt. Jason Humes, an Army nurse assigned to 7240th MSU in Kirksville, Missouri.
Services provided by Army Reserve personnel are approved through the Department of Defense's Innovative Readiness Training program, a civil-military program that builds mutually beneficial partnerships between U.S. communities and the DoD. The missions selected meet training & readiness requirements for Army Reserve Soldiers while integrating them as a joint and whole-of-society team to serve our American citizens.
Spc. Nijad Alatassi, an optical laboratory specialist assigned to the 7455th Medical Backfill Bn. in Topeka, Kansas, mentored Soldiers on his team with less experience and even learned some new things when working with hospital staff.
"The staff have been great getting me up to speed on some of the equipment I haven't used before... I think it's a really good thing that we're down here," Alatassi said.
Though the mission has a few days left to provide services, the team has already made a tremendous impact - the Outpatient Medical Team worked with nearly 100 patients, providing over 200 diagnostic procedures including lab work, x-rays, and MRI's. The Dental team worked with nearly 75 patients, providing 67 extractions and treatment procedures; and the Optometry team worked with over 75 patients, providing eye exams and updating prescriptions.
"It seems like there's a specific need for our capabilities in the optometry area. At first it was a little slow, but once word got out that we were here, it has really picked up. Everyone that has come through has seemed really happy we're here," said Alatassi.