SIKESTON, Mo. – More than 40 Airmen from the South Carolina Air National Guard traveled to the Midwest to help provide free medical and food services to hundreds of people in underserved communities.
About 30 Swamp Foxes from the 169th Medical Group and a dozen with the 169th Force Support Squadron supported people in Sikeston and Caruthersville, Missouri, and Metropolis, Illinois, June 14-24.
Operation Healthy Delta 2021 is a Department of Defense Innovative Readiness Training (IRT) program to provide military training opportunities by delivering key services to people in underserved communities.
Food services personnel provided three meals a day in the three locations. Medical specialists from McEntire Joint National Guard Base in South Carolina included dentists, optometrists, doctors who handed general medical issues, medics, dental and optometry technicians.
U.S. Air Force Maj. Dan Linkroum, medical readiness officer with the 169th Medical Group, was the lead planner for the SCANG and worked on the mission for nearly two years.
More than 200 uniformed personnel from the SCANG and the Arizona Air National Guard’s 162nd Wing, U.S. Air Force, U.S. Air Force Reserve, U.S. Navy Reserve, U.S. Army Reserve, Naval Ophthalmic Support and Training Activity (NOSTRA) and U.S. Public Health Service participated in the 10-day event. The Delta Area Economic Opportunity Corporation in Missouri served as the lead community partner.
The event attracted more than 100 patients per day at each site for free optometry and health exams, student physicals, behavioral health, dental and pharmacy services.
These medical IRTs are a classic “win-win” for the military and the community. People receive the health care they would not otherwise have access to or afford, and the military maintains proficiency in tasks needed in wartime and domestic operations.
The sites in Sikeston and Caruthersville were hosted by churches while the Metropolis site was at the county high school.
“I’m just so impressed considering [Miner Baptist Church] was empty 48 hours ago and now it’s a full-on dental, optometry and medical care clinic,” said U.S. Air Force Col. Phillip Latham, the 169th Medical Group commander. Latham provided services at the Sikeston location.
Some patients arrived in the middle of the night to line up, though each site opened at 8 a.m.
“Some of them do have access to base medical care. But typically they have zero access to dental and optometry. And some of them have been lost in the system,” Latham said.
“We’ve seen everything from skin problems, to blood pressure issues, to ear, nose and throat to bronchitis, GI [gastrointestinal] issues. … We’ve run the gamut of acute and chronic issues, which is what you would expect in an ER type of setting. We’re seeing all comers.”
Once medical personnel completed screening and treatment, they handed off patients to community partners for follow-up care.
“If what we’re doing is not enough, like somebody needs ongoing care, the community partners are literally poised at the exit, and we introduce them to those folks and help the patient know about those local resources,“ Latham said. “We try to make sure this is not a once-and-done type of operation. Nobody is going to get health care in one day.”
SCANG medical personnel received at least eight hours a day of formalized training or as part of the services provided, including triage skills, suture training, clinic set-up, medical supply and distribution, tactical supply acquisition and so on, Latham explained.
The value of medical treatment provided the first three days topped $277,000, according to U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Richard Maldonado, the mission officer in charge.