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Navy PA continues to care for COVID-19 caregivers

Three soldiers, wearing masks, demonstrating a hearing test Navy Lt. Jeffrey Osborn, physician assistant (PA) assigned to Navy Readiness and Training Command Bremerton’s Branch Health Clinic Bangor demonstrates to Navy Hospitalmen Wendy Dang (right) and Nicholas Gevedon (seated) the Rinne and Weber test(s) routinely used to evaluate hearing loss. Osborn attests that “the single best part of his job is training and working with corpsmen. (Photo by Douglas Stutz, NHB/NMRTC Bremerton.)

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As the effort to help stop the spread of COVID-19 continues, a Navy physician assistant is also supporting care for COVID-19 caregiver’s health, wellness and resilience needs.

Navy Lt. Jeffrey E. Osborn, assigned to Navy Medicine Readiness and Training Command (NMRTC) Bremerton’s Branch Health Clinic Bangor, explained how the pandemic has him helping maintain the warfighting capability of commands, as well as providing resources for the command’s health care workers.

As a PAt, Osborn works hand-in-hand with supervising physicians and surgeons, and is proficient in areas such as emergency medicine and family practice, along with handling primary care issues and overseeing other members of the medical team such as hospital corpsmen.

“The current pandemic has caused massive social upheaval and levels of stress only comparable to multiple deployments,” Osborn explained of the changes due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “People are having difficulty finding child care and balancing work, parental duties and even fulfilling the role of teachers.”

Osborn, who has taken the lead to chair NMRTC Bremerton’s Provider Wellness/Impaired Provider Prevention Program, now strives to ensure patient safety while acting as an advocate for credentialed health care providers.

“As with all functions at the hospital, our number one goal is always improving patient safety. In this care prevention, early identification, treatment and rehabilitation of possibly impaired health care providers is the focus,” Osborn said.

The program is a Defense Health Agency requirement and is comprised of multiple professions including credentialed provider, mental health and nursing staff representatives.

There are several services that can be provided, including mental health, substance abuse rehabilitation referrals, even help with work schedule issues for someone struggling with significant life events.

“We act as a voice of advocacy for staff. Our program provides routine information on building resiliency with a goal of prevention of impairment. Additionally, we focus on early identification and treatment always with the goal of rehabilitation and return to clinical duties,”  said Osborn, adding that the program routinely reaches out to the medical community with discussions and briefs on a regular basis, such as sharing during new provider orientation and medical staff meetings.

“Now more than ever it is critical that we work together as peers to provide support and feel comfortable checking in with each other to make sure that none of us are struggling in silence,” Osborn stressed. “Medical providers in particular tend to downplay their own problems, trying to focus on providing care. It is up to us to look out for each other.”

As Navy Medicine continues to respond to the pandemic’s lingering physical, mental and emotional impacts with a ready medical force ensuring there’s a medical ready force, the added responsibilities have led to concerns about burn-out and complacency.

“Health care workers are especially impacted by this as they fill a critical role on the front lines of addressing the pandemic. This has put increased stress on our staff as they work to provide critical care to our community while accepting increased risk of exposure and the fear of potentially spreading of the virus to family and friends,” Osborn said.

The Sacramento, California, native’s path to his current position has been based more on the journey than the actual destination. But, he said, the Pacific Northwest has made a lasting positive impression

“I enjoy my time as a Navy provider,” said Osborn. The job has unique challenges and opportunities that my civilian peers never get to experience. I can safely say that there is no place that has a similar sense of community and camaraderie as the military. The friendships and experiences will truly last a lifetime.” 

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