JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas —
During the first few months of the coronavirus pandemic, the U.S. Army Medical Center of Excellence at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston provided resources, expertise and assistance to medical facilities in New York and New Jersey overwhelmed by COVID-19 cases.
From March to May, seven MEDCoE service members with expertise in medical planning and logistics helped support hospitals and healthcare workers who were taking in a large number of COVID-19 patients.
The MEDCoE supported U.S. Army North, headquartered at JBSA-Fort Sam Houston, which is leading the Department of Defense response to COVID-19 in the U.S.
Capt. Alyssa Schlegel, MEDCoE Headquarters Support Company expert field medical badge test control officer in charge, said MEDCoE personnel were deployed to both New York and New Jersey because of the need for additional medical resources in those states.
“Due to the overwhelming amount of COVID-19 cases, New York and New Jersey requested Department of Defense support to augment their medical staff,” Schlegel said. “Additionally, healthcare workers were also getting sick from COVID-19 and were unable to work. Ultimately, the states deemed that there was a need for additional healthcare personnel to augment state healthcare workers and facilities.”
Schlegel served as the DOD medical operations planner and action officer and liaison for New Jersey. Her duties included the integration of 300 plus DOD personnel into the New Jersey healthcare system and the establishment of lines of communication between DOD, federal agencies and state agencies in New Jersey.
She helped with the placement of DOD medical personnel and resources at two alternate care facilities and three hospitals in the state. The alternate care facilities were set up in convention centers in Edison and Atlantic City by the state and were overseen by the New Jersey Department of Health.
Schlegel worked with various federal and state agencies, including DOD, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Resources, the New Jersey Department of Health, the New Jersey Office of Emergency Management, and the New Jersey National Guard, to share information, coordinate, and plan where DOD and MEDCoE resources were needed.
“We tracked data and the progress of COVID-19 related state projects in order to keep the DOD chain of command informed and to assist with planning,” Schlegel said. “In order to do this, we sat in on state meetings regarding the projects and engaged frequently with state representatives. Our main goal was to stay updated on progress, issues and concerns the state had and to relay information to them on the status of DOD assets.”
Schlegel said MEDCoE medical operations planners were able to utilize knowledge from their experiences and training of unit compositions, military occupational specialties and doctrinal health care operations to assist states in the planning and execution of resources in response to COVID-19.
Also, Schlegel said medical logistics officers were able to provide logistical guidance to DOD, state officials and healthcare workers by sharing best practices on how the Army conducts medical logistics.
Col. Carol Anderson, MEDCoE chief, Advanced Leadership Branch, served as a medical operations planner and liaison for ARNORTH in FEMA Region II, covering New York and New Jersey. Like Schlegel, she also worked with DOD, and federal and state agencies in supporting COVID-19 relief efforts. These efforts included coordination of DOD resources that would ultimately be placed within designated alternate care facilities and augmentation of staff within hospitals.
Anderson worked with FEMA Region II’s Defense Coordinating Element, which is within the Region II FEMA Office. This coordinating element oversaw the submission and management of mission assignments that led to the identification of required DOD resources to support relief efforts.
She coordinated directly with the ARNORTH Surgeon Office, Joint Task Force-Civil Support, from Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia, which served as Task Force New York/New Jersey, and the 44th Medical Brigade from Fort Bragg, North Carolina, in utilizing DOD medical resources and personnel within public hospitals and alternate care facilities such as the Javits Convention Center in New York and at the convention centers in Edison and Atlantic City, New Jersey.
In addition, the medical planning team also provided support in FEMA Region I, which covers several northeastern states, by establishing an alternate care facility within the Boston Exposition and Convention Center and establishing a wing for DOD medical personnel to enhance the Stamford University Hospital in Stamford, Connecticut.
Anderson said she was in constant communication with the ARNORTH Surgeon Office on how DOD assets, resources and personnel were being utilized in New York and New Jersey.
“One of the largest impacts we were able to make was to develop and shape the plan for DOD personnel to provide care to patients, and augment the staff within the 11 public hospitals within New York City’s Health and Hospitals system as well as three hospitals within New Jersey,” Anderson said. “This plan was done in concert with ARNORTH, 807th Medical Command, 44th Medical Brigade and Task Force New York/New Jersey.”
Anderson said she gained important knowledge and lessons from her experience serving as a medical operations planner and liaison officer during a pandemic.
“This was an incredibly significant and humbling experience and demonstrated the vital role of DOD, and other federal and state agencies, and how quickly we can synchronize resources to provide life-saving efforts in a time-constrained environment,” she said. “Our team’s primary focus was to quickly identify requirements and work as a concerted team of federal and state agencies to support U.S. citizens at the time of their greatest need.”
Schlegel said the services performed by MEDCoE personnel had a significant impact on DOD and ARNORTH’s response to COVID-19.
“Our skill sets and the relationships we formed enabled the smooth integration of DOD assets into each of the states,” Schlegel said. “We weren’t the ones providing patient care, but we definitely made the process easier for our respective states and DoD healthcare workers assigned to assist them. I believe we represented MEDCoE and the Army well and left a positive and lasting impression in the states that we assisted.”