LINCOLN, Neb. – Members of the Nebraska and Texas National Guard traveled to the Czech Republic in November at the request of the Czech Republican Ministry of Health to share best practices on fighting COVID-19.
The Guard team of physicians, medical administrators, planners and logisticians helped implement best practices and set up field hospitals as the Czech Republic anticipated a resurgence of COVID-19.
The event was a direct result of the partnership under the National Guard State Partnership Program, which links a state Guard unit or units with other nations.
It was the first time in the 27-year history of the partnership between the Czech Republic and both the Nebraska and Texas National Guard that a real-world, collaborative mission was requested, said Lt. Col. Shane Varejcka, Nebraska National Guard State Partnership Program coordinator.
"Our typical engagements are executed by two to three personnel for seven to 10 days and are focused on ways to integrate best practices at the tactical level and to help facilitate interoperability between the two organizations," Varejcka said. "Those engagements are typically aligned with the (U.S. European Command) EUCOM lines of effort, and unfortunately, medical is not one of those, so this opportunity was extremely unique."
Lt. Col. Amy Johnson, Nebraska Air National Guard 155th Medical Group nurse and medical administrative officer on the team, called the mission a "pretty big deal."
"The medical part of our partnership had never been a line of effort requested by the Czech Republic, and this mission shows unity with the teamwork of both partnerships from Nebraska and Texas," Johnson said.
Johnson arrived in the Czech Republic on Oct. 31 and served as a forward medical technical liaison with medical professionals from the Texas National Guard, sharing best practices with Czech Republic Ministry of Health representatives.
Johnson said the exchange helped establish relationships with the Czech Republic medical leadership.
"We can keep sharing information from country to country should another pandemic happen or should they need support for other medical reasons," Johnson said. "It's important that we keep those relationships there for future partnerships and opportunities."
After the initial visit, an additional medical information team of providers from Nebraska and Texas visited Nov. 9-23. Leading this team was Texas National Guard Joint Surgeon Army Col. Peter Coldwell.
Coldwell said it was an opportunity to evaluate the Czech Republic's alternative care site and two of their military hospitals.
"As a group, we were very impressed with what we saw," said Coldwell. "... All of the difficulties that we experienced in the United States, they've experienced here as well."
Coldwell said he hopes this collaboration continues.
"This is something that needs to endure," Coldwell said, adding that it would be beneficial to invite Czech providers to spend time in Nebraska and Texas to interact and train alongside American providers.
Texas National Guard Air Force Capt. Craig Ameduri, 149th Fighter Wing Medical Group physician assistant, said he was selected for the trip because of his experience with COVID testing and treatments and to demonstrate the importance of mid-level providers, such as physician assistants and nurse practitioners.
"I see COVID patients every day in my ER," said Ameduri, who works in the emergency room at Lackland Air Force Base.
Since nurse practitioners are a newer concept in the Czech Republic, Texas National Guard Air Force Capt. Natalya Stadler, 136th Airlift Wing Medical Group, volunteered to show how the skill set can be valuable to leverage during the pandemic.
"I'm a nurse practitioner and primary care is what I'm doing currently, focusing on internal medicine and primary care," said Stadler. "I think my background in international studies helps to understand the culture better, and any kind of cultural or knowledge exchange helps to understand each other a little bit better."
Air Force Capt. Stephanie Evans, a nurse with the Nebraska National Guard's 155th Medical Group, said she was chosen for the mission due to her extensive COVID-19 patient experience as a critical care nurse, working with Nebraska Medicine's bio-containment unit in Omaha since January. She said she was humbled to go to Olomouc and see the five patients in the intensive care unit there.
"It's been comforting knowing they (Czech Republic) are doing most of what we are doing, even across the ocean how things are so similar," Evans said. "We are all fighting COVID together."