News | Oct. 5, 2021

The cavalry has arrived

By Sgt. Kaden Pitt Defense Department Support to FEMA COVID-19

For hospital staff across the country, the last year and a half has consisted of long hours, little rest and more patients than ever. It’s not hard to see why these healthcare workers, who have been fighting to save lives day-in and day-out under stressful conditions, might begin to feel like relief is never coming. So when a team of U.S. Army medical professionals arrived at their doorstep, eager and willing to lighten the load, it was as if the cavalry had finally arrived.

“We really needed the help,” said Jasmine Carrier, a civilian respiratory therapist at Kootenai Regional Health Center. “Having them here to help has been exceptional. We really needed [their assistance] and we are really grateful.”

The medical response team assigned to the 627th Hospital Center, arrived at Kootenai Regional Health Center in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho on Sept. 4, 2021. After a short training period, the team began working directly with hospital staff.

“We’ve really been filling in a lot of the gaps in the nursing model,” said Capt. Corrine Brown, a critical care nurse assigned to the 627th Hospital Center. “We’ve mostly been working as floor nurses in the COVID intensive care unit. Day-to-day, we’re assessing patients, monitoring their drips, updating families and providing medications. Overall, the staff has been really grateful for us being here because we came ready to work.”

These individuals bring not only a willingness to step up and help but also crucial experience. The team consists of numerous medical specializations from respiratory specialists to nurses, both critical care and medical-surgical and physicians. In addition, many team members have conducted similar operations previously.

“For most of our staff this isn’t their first COVID mission,” said Lt. Col. Ramona Decker, the medical response team officer in charge, assigned to the 627th Hospital Center. “The team has a lot of experience treating COVID and they are doing amazing. The hospital staff is just awesome, so it was really incredible to see them look up to our team because of their positive attitudes and great work ethic.”

The collective sigh of relief that has been felt throughout the hospital can’t be overstated for many of the hospital staff.

“Having the ability to take a couple of days, to rest, recover and be able to be efficient again for the patients is irreplaceable,” said Carrier, a Coeur d’Alene, Idaho native. “It’s huge, and I’m really grateful that we have the support to do that because we didn’t before”

The hospital has shown a great deal of trust in the Department of Defense team, allowing them to take on even more critical roles to provide much-needed support.

“The team hasn’t just been working in the COVID floors. We’ve been filling in wherever the hospital needs us,” said Decker, a Clayton, California native. “The team has been working in increasingly more core staff positions with many of them taking on lead nurse responsibilities. The patients and the workload they’ve been taking on has gotten more complex and difficult, but the team has risen to the demand every time.”

Despite the demand that is placed on the team, they have managed to keep level heads and positive attitudes. Many members credit this to the efforts to support cohesion amongst the team.

“We all work the same days so having other people who are going through the same thing has been really helpful because if I need to, I can call over one of the other nurses and say, ‘Hey can I vent to you,’” said Brown, an Arlington, Washington native. “What’s really gotten me through a lot of crummy days though is seeing people who get better and knowing they get to go home and tell their families how serious [COVID] is. It’s good to know that we’re making a difference in their lives and in the community.”

The combination of keeping close with teammates and making a real difference in people’s lives has kept many members of the team operating with high spirits. One such individual, Capt. Jason Webb, a critical care nurse assigned to the 627th Hospital Center, while speaking on the differences of this mission from his last, still sparked a smile across a tired face pocked with the markings of nearly 12 hours straight in personal protective equipment.

“We’ve gotten to see a lot more patients leave the ICU with positive outcomes and that doesn’t really happen everywhere, which is just great to see,” said Webb. “We’re a super tight-knit bunch. Everyone is professional and has dove in to make this mission as successful as possible.”

The medical response team has shown the impact-driven professionals who are bent on making a difference can make. Lucky for many struggling hospitals around the country, they don’t plan on stopping.

“We do this because it’s what we’re passionate about,” said Brown. “It’s hard being away from friends and family, but this is what we were called to do. We are going to keep working wherever we’re needed.”