Continuing critical missions in the current climate of Coronavirus Disease 2019 or COVID-19 is nota simple task. The U.S. Army Institute of Surgical Research Burn Center is the leader in burn treatment both on and off the battlefield for the Department of Defense. For the service members and civilians of this leading edge treatment division; long hours, razor-thin margins of error, and life-saving decisiveness is a daily business, pandemic or not.
Thanks to a well-timed collaboration between the Medical Center of Excellence and the USAISR, a stop movement order on 20 newly-minted, Army combat medic specialists has become not only a welcome reinforcement to patient care but a critical one. In a time when medical professionals are pivoting from conventional roles to pandemic-related care and even pathogen-mitigation, these newly certified medics provide the Burn Center with an opportunity to flex its capabilities in advance of a potential COVID-19 storm while still providing high-quality burn care.
“Their morale is high and they are eager to be here,” said Sgt. 1st Class Jason Smith, former Burn Center Progressive Care Unit non-commissioned officer in charge; now a drill sergeant awaiting movement to the 232 Medical Battalion at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston. “They show it every day as they interact with our staff and patients. They are entrenching themselves as members of the Burn Center team.”
Over the last few weeks, concurrent with patient care on the ward, the medics have been training with seasoned and battle-tested trauma surgeons, respiratory technicians, nurses, and other medical professionals. Their training at the USAISR is preparing them for not only fighting COVID-19 here on our shores, but also fighting similar life-and-death situations abroad in the Army’s future conflicts.
“These medics were up to the challenge and they launched head-first into the task. Both Sgt. Hummer [Sgt. Rebecca Hummer, Respiratory Therapist] and I were extremely impressed with their eagerness and ability to learn so quickly,” said Sgt. Andrew Taylor, a licensed vocational nurse tasked with bringing the medics up to speed. “We trained the medics on ‘code blue’ procedures and the differences with a patient that has COVID-19.”
For Army combat medics, the opportunity to serve in a brick-and-mortar hospital while providing patient care is an experience that generally comes later in the career timeline, if at all. At the Burn Center, leadership proudly notes the morale of the medics is exceedingly high and they are eager to help in any capacity. The medics themselves echoed those same sentiments.
“I became a medic because I wanted the opportunity to help people but I didn’t think I’d be doing it in hospital, definitely not a burn ward,” said Pfc. Francis Mangino, “I’m really thankful for the opportunity to do some real good instead of just sitting around watching movies on my phone in the barracks.”
Said Pvt. Amanda Perez-Garcia, “Being able to help these patients heal and finally doing real work like this is something I didn’t expect but I’m really grateful, especially with everything that’s going on.”
On the topic of execution management and impact, Smith commented that the medics are providing a “synergistic force multiplication to the manpower capabilities of the Burn Center.”
Clearly their youthful energy, eager minds, and characteristic American grit have proven – and will continue to prove – beneficial for the Burn Center, particularly in the days ahead.