By Master Sgt. Beth Holliker, Public Affairs
/ Published July 25, 2013
Martin, Tenn. -- Airmen from the 180th Fighter Wing Medical Group deployed in July, to Martin, Tenn., to conduct Innovative Readiness Training in support of "Hope of Martin," a two-week health fair for members of the Martin and surrounding communities.
Approximately 30 members of the 180th FW Medical Group and 110 other service members from the Air National Guard, Navy, Naval Reserves and the Army came together in the West Tennessee Community to provide free medical care in support of Hope of Martin.
The event kicked off at 7:30 a.m. on July 9th at Martin Middle School, but hundreds of community members had filled the parking lot before the sun rose. Some even camped out over night in hopes that they would be some of the first to be seen by the medical providers. This became the norm, every day of the event, which lasted until July 18th and included the weekend in between.
Hope of Martin treated an average of over 400 patients each day, providing dental and vision screenings and treatment, physical and mental health screenings, occupational health screenings and overall health and wellness education.
To help ensure that patients were receiving the care and treatment desired, the medical staff implemented a seamless process to organize the masses wishing to be treated. Each morning the medical staff would issue numbers, 60 for vision, 40 for dental and around 100 for general medical and physical screening; one service per person. After receiving a number, patients would be signed in and taken to the triage area where nursing staff would document their vitals before being seen by providers.
"People are coming from all over, driving hours to be seen," said Tech. Sgt. Angela Delgado, a public health technician with the 180th Fighter Wing. "People are camping out, sleeping in tents, chairs and blankets on the ground so they can be seen first thing in the morning."
While those who received the first appointments of the day were being seen and treated, the rest of the crowd simply waited in hopes that they might still be able to see a provider. If providers were able to see and treat the initial patients and time permitted, a lottery would be held for those still waiting to be seen. Anyone waiting would be given a ticket and the lucky winners were selected by random drawings. This process would continue throughout the day as time and resources were available until the doors closed around 7 p.m.
Though the doors closed daily around 7 p.m., providers would continue to treat anyone with a lottery ticket until everyone had been seen, often working until 9 p.m. And, as the last few patients were being treated, the line in the parking lot would begin again for those hoping to be among the first in line for the next day's appointments.
"The days were long, but we helped a lot of people," said Tech. Sgt. Angela Delgado, a public health technician with the 180th Fighter Wing. "To see how happy they were to be seen by a provider and treated made it all worth it."
Because Medicare and Medicaid in that area do not cover dental services, dental care during Hope of Martin was in high demand. The dental staff provided a range of services from comprehensive oral evaluations and x-rays to cleanings, fillings and extractions. By the end of the event, the dental team had performed over 1,400 tooth extractions, over 150 fillings and about 1,500 other dental services.
Edward Hicks, a resident of nearby Dresden, Tenn., visited Hope of Martin all but two days over the two-week event in order to see providers. On top of receiving a comprehensive optical exam and a new pair of glasses, also produced on-site, Hicks also had multiple dental procedures which included the extraction of 30 teeth badly in need of repair.
"This is the best thing that has happened around here," said Hicks. "This should happen four times a year, or more!"
Though Hicks put himself through a lot by having nearly all of his teeth removed, he was excited because he knew that in a few days, he wouldn't be in pain anymore.
"These people appreciate this care so much," said Senior Airman Grace Owens, a health services technician with the 180th Fighter Wing. "We have seen them moved to tears."
Owens explained one instance when she watched a patient try on his new glasses and his amazement at the colors and details of the leaves on the trees, something he hadn't seen in years. "To see a reaction like that was worth the hard work and long hours," said Owens.
Air Force and Naval optometrists provided vision screenings to more than 2,000 optical exams resulting in over 1,100 pairs of eyeglasses to be produced.
Naval Ophthalmic Support & Training Activity, referred to as NOSTRA, personnel were on hand to fabricate prescription lenses on-site. This capability allowed for patients to receive their free glasses within 24 to 48 hours.
Staff Sgt. Casandra Brockway, an aerospace medical technician with the 180th Fighter Wing, recalls a patient who hadn't been able to see the faces of her children for over two years. "She was so happy," recalls Brockway. "She asked to see everyone who made it possible to actually see her children. She hugged each of them."
Major Gary Easterly, a health care administrator with the 180th Fighter Wing, was responsible for the command and control of all service members supporting Hope of Martin and tracking statistics for patients treated and procedures performed.
"I totally feel good about what we are doing," said Easterly. "I am proud of what we are doing and it's for people at home, in our country."
Over the course of the two-week event, military health care providers treated over 3,000 patients, conducted over 7,900 medical procedures and exams and produced over 1,100 pairs of eyeglasses.
"Hope of Martin was an incredible two weeks of training and assisting our citizens of America," said Col. Steve Nordhaus, 180th Fighter Wing commander. "Our vision is to be the best fighter wing in the world when it comes to protecting our nation and serving others. The Airmen of the 180th embrace the innovation and service needed to achieve this lofty vision and the results of "Hope of Martin" is another indication they are well on their way."
"When the call came in to assist in "Hope of Martin", the 180th Medical Group responded and performed beyond expectations, serving and caring for over 3,000 citizens of Tennessee in need of health care," continued Nordhaus. "The passion and commitment of our Airmen is second to none and I'm extremely proud to be a member of this wing."