FORT CARSON, Colo. — In a sign that the COVID-19 pandemic has loosened its grip on communities, Evans Army Community Hospital (EACH) leaders have announced that the Centralized Screening, Testing and Vaccination Center (CSTVC) at the hospital will close April 29, 2022.
“National positivity rates have plummeted since January, and there is no longer a need (for this specialized clinic),” said Maj. Harriet Folsom, CSTVC OIC. “Really, we’re recognizing this closure as more of a celebration than a loss of service.”
Opened in March 2020, the clinic and its staff tested more than 56,000 patients (Tricare beneficiaries) during a 25-month span. Besides Mountain Post service members, staff tested and vaccinated service members from Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Japan and Qatar as those units have trained at Fort Carson in the past two years. Folsom said that, ultimately, the clinic served service members from all branches of military service, as well as Family members, retirees and government civilians.
In response to the unprecedented and unexpected pandemic, EACH’s CSTVC was the first testing-and-vaccination clinic to open in Colorado and staff quickly went to work converting a former administrative area into a CSTVC. Meanwhile leaders sought medical professionals to man the clinic and volunteer medical professionals answered that call.
“Staff came from other clinics in the hospital,” Folsom said. “This was right at the beginning of the pandemic. It’s a testament to the character of our volunteers (medical staff). When the call went out to hospital staff to help us fight this invisible enemy, a lot of people were willing to step up and help out.”
Over time, staff levels and staff members changed according to testing and vaccination demand levels. Currently, the clinic has three EACH Soldiers or civilians and 11 U.S. Army Forces Command Soldiers.
Staffing levels have remained relatively consistent, except during severe positive spikes, such as the one associated with the omicron variant that occurred this past January. At the time, tests had been hovering between 2,000, and 2,800 for months, but in January, clinic leaders opted to add 10 personnel to accommodate a 500% increase in demand. In December 2021, the clinic tested 2,616 patients, but in January 2022 it tested 7,533.
Fluctuating demand was one of a few challenges CSTVC staff members endured.
“We faced a lot of unique challenges,” Folsom said. “One, the facilities. This clinic opening was unexpected; not in anyone’s plans. Originally, there was no space for us, and we had no dedicated staff. There was also the ambiguity of the virus. We just didn’t know a lot about it. At first, our staff was covered head to toe in these powered air-purifying respirator suits (PAPR) and those are very different from the protective clothing we wear now (N-95 mask, gown and eye coverings).”
Staff members also initially started with limited equipment, so they had to find equipment in order to put their mission together.
“The information change over the past two years also required staff members to continually update their knowledge through the CDC guidance and recommendations,” Folsom said. “A large part of what we do here is the education piece. We needed to make sure the people we were testing knew the latest and most thorough information about the virus. So, we leaned on our infection control manager, John Maynard, at the hospital. We also compiled information that came straight from the CDC, the DOD, the Defense Health Agency and the 4th Infantry Division. Then, we had to find the best fit for our patients that followed those guidelines.”
During the past few weeks, Army installation medical teams have begun closing their testing centers and EACH is following suit.
“We were one of the first testing centers to open in the military medical system, and now we seem to be right in the middle of military testing centers that are closing,” Folsom said. “It’s time.”
While the CSTVC will officially close soon, community members should know that they can still be tested and receive vaccinations at EACH.
“The new pathway is going back toward patients’ provider or primary care manager,” Folsom said. “People can begin returning to their normal clinic for testing and service members who will be traveling can go to the Soldier Readiness Processing Center to be tested.”