FORT BELVOIR, Virginia – The State of New Jersey and New York City has combined to have almost 340,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of May 18, according to the New Jersey and New York City Departments of Health.
Six U.S Army Medical Command Soldiers, a team of doctors and nurses assigned to Troop Command-South, are on the front lines at Cooper University Hospital in Camden, New Jersey, 90 miles from New York City.
The officers assigned to the program were selected because they have medical specialties typically used in military forward surgical teams, such as emergency medicine physician, trauma surgeon, nurse anesthetist, and intensive care and emergency care nurses.
Three of those Soldiers, with New Jersey ties, are providing medical care to Cooper patients who present with COVID-19 symptoms and those who test positive.
Major Jill Rose, who became an Army Nurse in 2009 and deployed to Afghanistan in 2011, compares working in a pandemic situation to being deployed in support of combat operations.
“This crisis has some striking similarities to deployment, with movement restricted, uncertain plans, and a vague threat lurking, said the Clifton native. “It is odd to be close to home under these circumstances, but I am so grateful to be able to help.”
Rose mentioned that when Hurricane Sandy struck the area in 2012, she was far from her family and friends who were dealing with so much destruction.
“I am so glad to be able to help my home team here in New Jersey during this time,” said Rose, who graduated from the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey before deciding to serve her country. “During Hurricane Sandy, I was in Texas, and it was so hard to see New Jersey struggling and not be able to help. I consider it providential that during this time I am in the community here in New Jersey.”
Before the pandemic paralyzed the country, the Army officers had been performing trauma and emergency medicine at Cooper since May 2018 as part of U.S. Army Medical Command’s Army Military-Civilian Trauma Team Training, or AMCT3 program.
Through the partnership with Cooper, a Level 1 Trauma Center, the program enables participants to sustain critical wartime medical skills through access to a high volume of trauma and critically ill patients during a three-year assignment that duty at military treatment facilities do not provide.
Major Ryan K. Ransom grew up in Sparta Township, where he spent 18 years of his life. His interest in medicine started in high school. Ransom became a volunteer emergency technician at 16 and started working on an ambulance crew a few times per week. By the end of high school, Ransom was Cadet Corps Chief for the Sparta Volunteer Ambulance Department.
Ransom said he feels very fortunate be in New Jersey near his family during this time of uncertainty.
“New Jersey is one of the hardest hit areas by the coronavirus,” said Ransom, a registered nurse and officer-in-charge of the AMCT3 team. “It feels really good to be able to give back to the community and our civilian partners at Cooper University Hospital. I’m glad we can be here to provide our expertise and manpower during their time of need.”
Major Corey Mossop said he became a doctor due to a philanthropic desire to help people, in most cases, during their greatest times of need. He was also influenced by his family history of military service.
“There is no population more deserving of superb care than our Soldiers, veterans and their families,” said Mossop, a native of Pennsauken, who matriculated into the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences Medical (Bethesda, Maryland) Doctorate Program after graduating summa cum laude from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, with a bachelor’s degree in Kinesiology in 2005.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Mossop performs additional on-call duties and supports the Neurosurgery Department where he conducts daily rounds on all neurosurgery patients to ensure their continued progress. He also assisted in developing the department’s COVID-19 response plan.
“It certainly means a lot to help address the COVID-19 pandemic from the area in which I grew up,” said Mossop, who was commissioned into the Medical Corps upon receiving his medical doctorate from USUHS in 2009. “The most important thing we can provide patients and their families is a reassurance that we’re there for them 24/7 (24 hours a day, seven days a week) when they’re having their worst days and that the pandemic won’t affect the excellent quality of care our team delivers”
He and Ransom were members of the initial team of providers to treat a suspected COVID-19 patient, who needed a hemi-craniectomy in the operating when Cooper began to feel the impact of the pandemic. The care they provided to the patient and adherence to PPE guidelines helped establish the standard for how COVID-19 patients would be managed in the operating room.
When they were selected for the AMCT3 program, Army Medicine prepared them well to provide compassionate, emergent care or perform complex surgeries. It was their Army training and deployment experiences that prepared them to operate effectively in a pandemic situation.
Ransom credits his training to be able to perform his duties during these emotionally-filled and austere circumstances.
He remembered reading a passage from a professional paper written by another officer while he was attending a course at the Army’s Command and General Staff College that still impacts him today.
“It basically stated that part of being a military officer was being able to thrive in an environment of chaos,” Ransom said. While I may not always be thriving in that kind of environment, I certainly have learned how to deal with it. I don’t think I would be handling this pandemic nearly as well without all my military training and adventures.”
According to Cooper’s Tim Galvin, administrator for Section of Military, Diplomatic, and Field Affairs, adaptability and flexibility are qualities that are quite apparent in all members of the AMCT3 program at Cooper.
“From the beginning of the crisis, the team has been flexible with their clinical schedules and assisting their departments in whatever was needed by the leadership,” Galvin said. “With only a day’s notice, the whole team showed up to assemble the Alaskan shelters outside the Emergency Department to handle the eminent surge of COVID-19 patients.”
The other AMCT3 Soldiers who have answered the call at Cooper include:
· Capt. Simon Sarkisian, Emergency Room physician, who has provided care and respiratory support for 60 COVID-19 patients;
· Capt. Hillary Battles, a critical care nurse on the “turn team” in the Medical ICU (COVID unit) for COVID 19 patients; the team moves from room- to room turning COVID-19 patients into the prone potation to help with lung recruitment;
· Maj. Lisa Shropshire, a perioperative nurse, supports the special needs of the operating room by being part of the donning and doffing team responsible for ensuring Power Air Purifying Respirators and PPE are put on and removed correctly by the doctors and nurses working in the operating room.
Cooper’s Vice-Chairman, Department of Emergency Medicine at Cooper, Dr. Drew Nyce said the AMCT3 military team was instrumental in the ED’s surge plan for COVID-19.
“They took a lead role in the planning, construction and early operations of our two negative pressure tents designed to care for suspected COVID patients,” he said. “Their expertise and past experiences with similar structures allowed Cooper’s ED surge tent to be fully functional within days.”
For the AMCT3 team, all of the Army training, exposure to combat and other military operations did not prepare them emotionally for the shared experiences in providing patient care during a pandemic.
They understand the rule that patients can only have one visitor in order to protect the staff and other patients. But, understanding the rules and seeing them implemented first-hand can be difficult.
“I had a patient who died in the ED,” Rose said. “His wife was able to be with him, but no other family members. She was elderly. My heart went out to her, seeing her grapple with this situation alone. All the ER nurses did everything we could to support her and just be with her when no one else could. It was heart-breaking.”