Mountain Home, Ark. (June 15, 2017) - --
Airmen from the 125th Medical Group of Jacksonville, Florida, have been working two weeks alongside their Army and Navy counterparts for Innovative Readiness Training here, using the local junior high school not only as workspace to see patients in, but as living quarters also
The IRT program allows active-duty, guard and reserve members to volunteer for real-world training opportunities through engineering, veterinarian, medical, and construction projects that benefit the sometimes-forgotten citizens of American communities in need.
“I just love the fact that we’re helping out,” said Lt. Col. Keshan L. Chambliss, the health services administrator for the 125 MDG, and Air National Guard liaison for this IRT. “Some peoples’ lives are actually being saved.”
There are three Arkansas locations hosting this IRT, said Chambliss. Besides Mountain Home, there are medical teams also working out of Marshall and Yellville, with about 150 patients coming through each site daily.
Services offered include medical, dental, vision and pharmaceutical. Initial health screenings are given to determine what type of care is needed for each patient. Dental offers everything from cleanings and fillings to x-rays and extractions. Optometry provides eye exams and eye glasses made on-site, with a 48-hour turnaround time. Free prescriptions are filled through the pharmacy, such as antibiotics and allergy relief. Whatever open medications are left once the IRT is over will be donated to a local charity.
Although folks may have medical insurance, they quite often go without dental and vision simply because of the added cost. And real-life situations can throw the best plans into a tailspin.
Retired social case worker Sara R. Allen, a Mountain Home resident, is one such person. The flood of 2008 washed away her life savings. Allen admits her teeth usually get neglected, and she buys over-the-counter reading glasses as needed.
“This is not the retirement that I had planned, I saved money and thought I invested correctly,” said Allen. “I just don’t have that cushion anymore. But you do what you can do, and keep putting one step in front of the other.”
Even through her chronic back pain and creeping paralysis, Allen continues to care for her ex-husband who has dementia.
“Old social workers never die or retire,” said Allen. “They just volunteer in this world and the next.”
Allen is just one of several hundred patients who walk in with severe financial hardships hanging over their heads, but still wear smiles on their faces.
“People have privilege, and people don’t, that is not indicative of their own choices,” said Senior Airman James R. Soldier, a medical technician for the 125 MDG. “They didn’t choose to not have healthcare, they didn’t choose to not be able to go to the doctor.”
Robert Olsen, a resident of nearby Viola, gave nine years of service to the Navy, so he is able to visit the Veterans Affairs in Fayetteville. However, he has not been seen by a medical provider since last March, and it will be another year before he is eligible for new glasses. As a slinging iron gunsmith, Olsen needs to stay on top of his vision.
“Working with welding, my poor glasses get ate up,” said Olsen. “Coming here means I might be able to see a little bit better.”
“To see what type of impact we’re making is really great,” said Senior Airman Alexis Pachesa, a medical technician for the 125 MDG. “Giving them glasses has been really cool. They come back in with them and say, ‘I can see again!’”
The importance and value of this program draws distinguished visitors to the sites, from the commander of the 125 MDG to politicians and their staff.
Stetson Painter, a field representative for Congressman Rick Crawford (1st District of Arkansas) surprised providers and patients alike with a visit June 12.
Painter was involved with some of this project’s planning, and wanted to see for himself how things are going.
“Being in the planning meetings and then now seeing it blew my mind,” said Painter. “I really didn’t get an idea of what all you guys did during the planning meetings, but seeing it now, it’s amazing. And the impact, I think almost half a million dollars to this area, is incredible. I think the impact will be felt not just while you guys are here, but long term.”
A long-term impact may very well be felt by both the patients and providers.
“The by-product of us training and giving these people care is, it touches everyone’s hearts and it’s a God-send for the people,” said Soldier. “They have not been to the dentist or to a doctor for 20-some years. Now this comes along and they are just so thankful that we are here to help them, I feel like I’m the one who’s gaining more by doing this than they are.”
Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen serve not only their country, but also communities in need through IRT missions, which leave a lasting impression. Patients appreciate the providers, providers appreciate the patients and the experience overall.
“My biggest takeaway is probably just the humility,” said Soldier. “It’s so easy to get caught up in your daily lives and start taking for granted all of the things that you have and don’t think about. To come here and see people who generally need things that you don’t think twice about is very humbling.”