Back to Top Skip to main content Skip to sub-navigation

Teamwork, adaptability, service – MTFs shine during COVID-19 pandemic

People at screening area At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Walter Reed National Military Medical Center’s command emergency manager Chris Gillette (center) shifted to overdrive to establish strict protocols including a centralized screening and testing area at the hospital. (Photo by Harvey Duze, Walter Reed National Military Medical Center)

Recommended Content:

Mental Health Toolkit | May | COVID-19 Vaccine Toolkit | Coronavirus

Although the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in mass fear, grief, and loss for the collective society, for the Military Health System, it also provided an unprecedented opportunity to test – and confirm – its readiness during an ongoing public health emergency. Personifying the Defense Health Agency’s mission to create a ready medical force to support a medically ready force, thousands of MHS personnel continue to withstand the test in myriad ways.

During National Hospital Week, the MHS recognizes each of the many individuals and teams across the MHS who ensured the readiness mission didn’t falter throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, relying on creativity, adaptability, and teamwork to provide unwavering service to millions of beneficiaries around the world.

For Marisa Fernandez, the microbiology supervisor overseeing immunology and molecular diagnostics at the Department of Pathology and Area Laboratory Services within Brooke Army Medical Center in Fort Sam Houston, Texas, the pandemic changed the way we practice health care in the MHS.

Woman servicemember in front of computer
Navy Cmdr. Hannah Starnes, director of mental health at Naval Hospital Jacksonville, and her staff adapted to the COVID-19 pandemic by expanding telehealth options, counting more than 33,000 enrollees since the onset of the pandemic. (Photo courtesy of Naval Hospital Jacksonville.)

“We had to think of new ways to keep people safe and still offer the health care they needed,” she said. “Specifically, for my section, I had to think of ways to schedule personnel to accomplish the work and keep them safe and distant from one another. 

Another aspect, she said, was preparing for the mass testing we were expected to perform for COVID-19. “We were one of the first labs to have the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s COVID-19 testing in place during the beginning of the pandemic.”

Navy Cmdr. Hannah Starnes agreed. As the director of mental health at the Navy Medicine Readiness and Training Command Jacksonville, Florida, she and her team had to think “really creatively” to leverage technology and continue taking care of their patients, particularly active-duty service members.

“There were a lot of technological changes that we had to make,” she said. “We utilized our command’s virtual video solution to allow our patients to access our providers from home, through an encrypted, safe telehealth solution.”

She explained mental health was already on the forefront of utilizing telehealth even before the pandemic because it allows for easier clinical visits than other medical treatments. The pandemic simply pushed them to leverage it quicker and more widely.

“Several of our providers were already piloting the telehealth program,” she said. “By the time COVID-19 hit, we offered this option to all of the providers, resulting in approximately 95% utilizing that solution by the time April or May 2020 rolled around.”

In the case of emergency management at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, in Bethesda, Maryland, COVID-19 caused significant changes in the way daily operations were conducted, said Chris Gillette, the center’s command emergency manager.

“Initially, the most notable changes focused on implementing additional safety and security measures for our staff, patients, and visitors,” he said. “Those consisted of establishing controlled access to the hospital, a centralized screening and testing area, strict personal protective equipment and infection control protocols for our staff, and social distancing policies.” 

Two lab technicians at work on samples
Air Force Staff Sgt. Tyler Byrd, NCOIC, Immunology, and Air Force Technical Sgt. Jennifer Weigl, NCOIC, Microbiology, prepare patient samples for COVID-19 extraction at Brooke Army Medical Center, Fort Sam Houston, Texas, June 1, 2020. BAMC laboratory technicians are completing COVID tests of all samples taken from patients at BAMC and its neighboring communities. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Master Sgt. Sarah Hanaway, Brooke Army Medical Center)

WRNMMC also saw changes in its outpatient service mission from a patient care perspective, according to Gillette. Expanding health care to telehealth played a significant role in those changes.

“Although our clinics and other ancillary services were open, many patients did not want to come into the hospital,” he said. “This led to the need to expand our capabilities for telehealth appointments (which worked very well). We also established a drive-thru pharmacy for our patients which we continue to operate today.”

As important as teamwork is in achieving any mission, during the COVID-19 pandemic it was paramount for MHS readiness. Teamwork ensured protocols were established and followed to the letter to avoid interruption of safe, reliable service to beneficiaries in the most trying times.

For Fernandez, the pandemic was the “real test” she and her team had prepared for. Following updated protocols, they were ready “for whatever came their way.”

She credits her leadership for making the difference as DPALS/BAMC undertook testing early in the pandemic.

“This was a massive operation which tested an average of 1,600 test per week,” she said. “Everyone involved knew their role and worked diligently and efficiently to provide results within 24 hours.”

Gillette added that despite the many challenges and rapid changes the pandemic brought on, staff’s professionalism, teamwork, and flexibility were key to adapting to new protocols safely and effectively.

For example, he said, setting up an Incident Response Structure at WRNMMC proved “effective for organizing and coordinating our daily planning efforts, providing clear and consistent policy changes and guidance to our staff and patients, and ensuring a well-executed, coordinated and integrated response,” he said.

In every aspect, the COVID-19 pandemic further proved the MHS’s readiness training is effective during a real-world emergency in which the whole of society must work together.

“It validated the effectiveness of our contingency plans and our ongoing training and exercises designed to maintain continuous ‘all hazards’ readiness,” said Gillette. “This proved to be effective in enhancing operations and our patient care mission.”

Likewise, he said, “the relationships and partnerships we have established over the years with local, state, and federal agencies throughout the region proved highly effective throughout the pandemic.”

“We shared challenges and lessons learned, discussed capabilities and resource needs, and knowing that our neighbors were there to listen and make every effort to offer assistance and support gave everyone a sense of security,” he added.

Technicians work with vaccines
Military medical treatment facility staff, like those with the 412th Medical Group at Edwards Air Force Base in California are consistently on the frontlines in the war against the COVID-19 disease. (U.S. Air Force photo by Giancarlo Casem)

According to Starnes, COVID-19 also pushed MHS personnel to think outside the box, thereby becoming more efficient. Since patients were often unable to access their medical treatment facilities in person due to physical distancing safety measures, providers adapted to maintain the active-duty war fighters’ readiness, both by offering telehealth options as well as by maximizing the in-person visits to MTFs patients were able to attend.

“It has really changed our way of managing our patients, almost bringing us back to the basics,” she said. “We’re looking at patients more holistically, considering how we can best maximize and optimize the time we have with them, whether they’re physically in front of us or virtually.”

As an example, she explained that when a patient comes in to the MTF for a specific primary care consult but may also soon be due for other routine or specialty care screening or testing, lab work, or x-rays, the staff at NH Jacksonville tries to maximize the visit by preparing in advance of the patient’s arrival and getting as much as possible done in that visit to avoid them from having to come in again.

In addition, she said having an option for telehealth has been helpful for patients who may be transitioning between duty stations or sailors attached to a ship, who are unable to come into an MTF.

“Telehealth allows their health care not to be gapped during that transition period or when they get off the ship,” said Starnes. “As long as they’re within wi-fi or cell phone coverage, we can still have an appointment with them, at least from the mental health standpoint, and not interfere with their readiness mission.”

That way, “they don’t have to leave for half a day to go to an appointment at the hospital,” she said. “They can still stay in their workplace, have their appointment, and go back to work.”

As proof of the success telehealth has offered, Starnes pointed to the numbers of enrollees in telehealth at Naval Hospital Jacksonville since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

“Prior to COVID, we only had about 6,700 patients enrolled in telehealth, and now we’re over 33,000,” she concluded.

You also may be interested in...

Mask Guidance for Department of Defense Facilities

Infographic
7/30/2021
In accordance with CDC guidance, the Department of Defense (DOD) requires all Service members, Federal employees, onsite contractor employees, and visitors, regardless of vaccination status, to wear a mask in all indoor DOD facilities.   If you are not vaccinated, continue to physically distance consistent with applicable CDC and DOD Force Health Protection Guidance.

In accordance with CDC guidance, the Department of Defense (DOD) requires all Service members, Federal employees, onsite contractor employees, and visitors, regardless of vaccination status, to wear a mask in all indoor DOD facilities. If you are not vaccinated, continue to physically distance consistent with applicable CDC and DOD Force Health Protection Guidance.

Recommended Content:

COVID-19 Vaccine Toolkit | Coronavirus | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts

The Delta Variant

Infographic
6/28/2021
Graphic stating that the Delta variant is a reason to get vaccinated. The TRICARE logo is on the bottom right. Links to www.tricare.mil/COVIDVaccine

The Delta variant of the virus is a reason to get vaccinated. The variant is expanding, especially where vaccination rates are low.

Recommended Content:

COVID-19 Vaccine Toolkit | COVID-19 Delta Variant | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts | Coronavirus

The Delta Variant: Are You Protected?

Infographic
6/28/2021
Graphic with the title, “Are you Protected?” and the TRICARE logo on the bottom right. States that the Delta variant of the virus is spreading and that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are effective. Links to www.tricare.mil/COVIDVaccine

Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are effective against the Delta Variant. If you've received your first dose, don't forget to get your second dose.

Recommended Content:

COVID-19 Vaccine Toolkit | COVID-19 Delta Variant | Coronavirus | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts

The Delta Variant: Fact Check

Infographic
6/28/2021
A Fact Check graphic. Features a quote in the center of the graphic and states that the Delta variant is a reason to get vaccinated. The TRICARE logo is on the bottom right. Links to www.tricare.mil/COVIDVaccine

The Delta variant of the virus is a reason to get vaccinated. This variant spreads easily, with increased rates of sickness and hospitalization.

Recommended Content:

COVID-19 Vaccine Toolkit | COVID-19 Delta Variant | Coronavirus | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts

The Delta Variant: Stop the Spread

Infographic
6/28/2021
Graphic describing the Delta variant. Includes three bullet points describing the variant and a link to www.tricare.mil/COVIDVaccine and includes the TRICARE logo on the bottom right.

The Delta variant is expanding, especially where vaccination rates are low. Visit www.tricare.mil/COVIDVaccine to learn more.

Recommended Content:

COVID-19 Vaccine Toolkit | COVID-19 Delta Variant | Coronavirus | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts

COVID-19: Get Your Second Shot

Infographic
6/22/2021
Get Your Second Shot! You're not fully vaccinated - or protected - until you receive your second shot of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine.

You're not fully vaccinated - or protected - until two weeks after getting your second shot of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine.

Recommended Content:

COVID-19 Vaccine Toolkit | Get to Know the COVID-19 Vaccines | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts

Get to Know the COVID-19 Vaccines - Main Infographic

Infographic
6/9/2021
An infographic describing the COVID-19 Vaccines, How they Work and Safety Monitoring Processes

This infographic pulls all three COVID-19 topics together in one graphic: Getting to Know the COVID-19 Vaccines, How they Work and Safety Monitoring

Recommended Content:

COVID-19 Vaccine Toolkit | Get to Know the COVID-19 Vaccines | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts | Getting the COVID-19 Vaccine

How COVID-19 Vaccines Work

Infographic
6/9/2021
Describes how the mRNA and viral vector vaccines work to educate beneficiaries about the COVID-19 vaccines.

This graphic showing how the mRNA and viral vector vaccines work to educate beneficiaries about the COVID-19 vaccines. Graphics are informational and provide facts on how they work in our bodies.

Recommended Content:

COVID-19 Vaccine Toolkit | Get to Know the COVID-19 Vaccines | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts | Getting the COVID-19 Vaccine

Get to Know the COVID-19 Vaccines

Infographic
6/9/2021
Assures beneficiaries that the COVID-19 vaccines will not give you the virus, does not affect our DNA, and is safe.

This graphic that assures beneficiaries that the vaccines will not give you the virus, does not affect our DNA, and is safe. Graphics include a person receiving the vaccine and a comparison graphic of COVID-19 trials versus other trials.

Recommended Content:

Get to Know the COVID-19 Vaccines | COVID-19 Vaccine Toolkit | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts | Getting the COVID-19 Vaccine

COVID-19 Vaccines Safety Monitoring

Infographic
6/9/2021
Graphic that assures beneficiaries that the COVID-19 vaccines are monitored for safety. Has information on how they are being reviewed. Graphics include doctors in a laboratory and a doctor with a shield fending off the virus. The MHS and TRICARE logos are on the bottom right.

Graphic that assures beneficiaries that the COVID-19 vaccines are monitored for safety. Has information on how they are being reviewed. Graphics include doctors in a laboratory and a doctor with a shield fending off the virus.

Recommended Content:

COVID-19 Vaccine Toolkit | Get to Know the COVID-19 Vaccines | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts | Getting the COVID-19 Vaccine

Facemask Required

Infographic
6/4/2021
COVID-19 poster showing doctors and patients in a health care setting wearing masks. The sign reads, "Masks are required in health care settings even if you're fully vaccinated. Please make sure your mask is on."

While the CDC relaxed mask requirements for vaccinated people, you're still required to wear masks in health care settings. Print this poster and put it around your facility to let patients and visitors know the requirements.

Recommended Content:

COVID-19 Vaccine Toolkit | Prevent COVID-19

COVID-19 Vaccination Card Second Shot

Infographic
5/27/2021
Graphic saying that keeping track of your vaccination card is important. Includes a helpful tips section, a link to www.tricare.mil/covidvaccine, and what to do when you didn’t get your vaccination card or don’t have a copy. The TRICARE logo is on the bottom right of the page.

Keep track of your vaccination card. Tips include keeping your card on you and taking a picture of it as a backup copy.

Recommended Content:

COVID-19 Vaccine Toolkit | Costs and Documentation | Coronavirus

COVID Vax Fact Children Get Vaccine

Infographic
5/19/2021
that the Pfizer vaccine is approved for children ages 12 to 15 and that children should be vaccinated. Graphic includes the TRICARE logo on the bottom right, and outlines of medical related items on the left of the page. Links include www.tricare.mil/COVIDVaccine

Graphic saying that the Pfizer vaccine is approved for children ages 12 to 15 and that children should be vaccinated. Graphic includes the TRICARE logo on the bottom right, and outlines of medical related items on the left of the page.

Recommended Content:

COVID-19 Vaccine Toolkit | COVID-19 Vax Facts

Pharmacy Options During COVID-19

Infographic
5/17/2021
This infographic describes the way your military pharmacy's operational status may change based on local COVID-19 conditions.

This Infographic describes the ways your military pharmacy's operational status may changed based on local COVID-19 conditions.

Recommended Content:

COVID-19 Vaccine Toolkit | Pharmacy Operations Toolkit

Pharmacy Beneficiary Options

Infographic
5/17/2021
This Infographic describes your pharmacy options if your military pharmacy is closed due to COVID-19.

This Infographic describes your pharmacy options if your military pharmacy is closed due to COVID-19.

Recommended Content:

COVID-19 Vaccine Toolkit | Pharmacy Operations Toolkit
<< < 1 2 3 4 5  ... > >> 
Showing results 1 - 15 Page 1 of 7

DHA Address: 7700 Arlington Boulevard | Suite 5101 | Falls Church, VA | 22042-5101

Some documents are presented in Portable Document Format (PDF). A PDF reader is required for viewing. Download a PDF Reader or learn more about PDFs.