Medical workers and other experts have been on the frontlines fighting the coronavirus pandemic since the infection surged in the United States in early March.
To support the coronavirus relief efforts and curb the spread of the disease, the U.S. Army mobilized more than a dozen Urban Augmentation Medical Task Forces. The task forces consist of Army Reserve medical specialists suited with the right skills and training to address the mission requirements under the direction of U.S. Northern Command, the Department of Defense's lead for COVID-19 operations in the United States.
Maj. Theresa R. Simard, a flight surgeon with the 11th Expeditionary Combat Aviation Brigade out of Fort Carson, Colorado, is one of over 1,200 medical professionals who received the call to mobilize.
On April 4, the same day she received her orders, Simard was given 24 hours to pack and deploy with the 807th Medical Command (Deployment Support).
"I knew the mobilization was coming," said Simard. "Everything just happened so fast. I was excited to get on the flight, but at the same time, I was sad because I didn't want to leave my husband, who serves in the U.S. Navy."
Luckily for Simard, her mother, Flora Simard, is only a drive away, and readily available to support her military needs.
"As soon as my mom found out I was mobilized, she drove from California to New Mexico to help me with whatever I needed," Simard said. "She took my dogs, who are my babies, with her to care for them while I'm gone. I don't know what I would do without her."
Upon departing from New Mexico, Simard's initial assignment was at the Javits Convention Center, now known as the Javits New York Medical Station, in New York City. Here, Simard was part of an 85-Soldier team whose mission was to augment local hospital staff by supporting up to 250 low-acuity patients.
A couple of weeks later, Simard was reassigned to Lincoln Hospital in the Mott Haven neighborhood of the Bronx, where she currently serves as an in-patient doctor, managing COVID-19 patients, their medications, and ensuring ventilator support is optimal.
According to Jonathan Hoffman, the chief Pentagon spokesman, the 11 public hospitals in New York City, including Lincoln, have received between 20 to 30 military medical personnel to help augment the hospital's civilian staff.
Working under stressful and often unpredictable conditions is nothing new for Simard, who works as a family medicine physician in her civilian capacity with the Presbyterian Rust Medical Center in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She credits her empathetic nature and adaptability to her civilian and military medical training. As a U.S. Army Reserve flight surgeon, Simard is responsible for maintaining the military's strict medical standards, especially the even more stringent standards that apply to Army pilots.
"Witnessing what is occurring in some of the harder-hit places in the country makes me wish I could do more," said Simard. "Seeing people perish, who otherwise had decades left, is probably the hardest part of this mission."
"Everyone has suffered in some way because of this pandemic, she added. "But, I feel truly fortunate to be able to help people through this."
Simard also credits the Lincoln medical staff for their collaborative efforts and can-do attitudes.
"The staff at Lincoln Hospital has been here since the beginning of the pandemic and has managed to stay extremely resilient," said Simard. "It's truly inspiring to see the hospital staff stay so positive and efficient during these hard times."
Simard, a native of Sacramento, California, earned her medical degree from the University of Illinois at Chicago Health Science Center in 2012. Her husband, Lt. Cmdr. David Burk, an orthopedic surgeon with the U.S. Navy, was also tasked to assist with the COVID-19 recovery efforts in Guam; however, his mission was later recalled.
"I feel honored to be able to help people through the pandemic," said Simard. "Actively doing something about it makes me feel better, and I will be here as long as they need me to be. We're in this together."
The 11th Expeditionary Combat Aviation Brigade, Army Reserve Aviation Command, will continue to support the nation's fight against COVID-19 through its expertise in aviation and scalable medical staff. The brigade's fixed-wing aviators from 6th Battalion, 52nd Aviation Regiment (Theater Fixed Wing Battalion), out of Los Alamitos, California, have also been providing continuous operational airlift support to some of the hardest-hit areas in the nation.