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Defending the Homeland: NMRTC Bremerton ensures Operational Readiness and a Medically Ready Force

Three healthcare workers wearing masks Rear Adm. Blake L. Converse, Commander, Submarine Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet, recently contacted Capt. Shannon J. Johnson, Commanding Officer, Navy Medicine Readiness and Training Command (NMRTC) Bremerton, on behalf of his submariners, thanking her command’s leadership and Sailors for their support to the Pacific Submarine Force during the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak. (Official Navy photo by Douglas H Stutz, NMRTC Bremerton public affairs officer)

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‘Swabbie’ might be older generational slang for a Sailor, but current Navy Medicine swab testing support for the Fleet has been timely, as well as progressive.

Navy Rear Adm. Blake Converse, commander, Submarine Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet, recently contacted Navy Capt. Shannon Johnson, commanding officer, Navy Medicine Readiness and Training Command Bremerton, on behalf of his submariners, thanking her command’s leadership and Sailors for their support to the Pacific Submarine Force during the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak.

“Through these uncertain times, your team took care of my Sailors in a disciplined yet compassionate manner,” wrote Converse. “It is clear that NMRTC Bremerton has every Sailor in their best interest. Your efforts contribute to the submarine force’s mission readiness.”

Supporting mission readiness has long been a responsibility for the ready medical force of NMRTC Bremerton, ensuring that Navy ship, squadron, shore and submarine personnel are collectively a medically ready force and operationally fit to perform and deploy when called upon.

According to Navy Cmdr. Robert Uniszkiewicz, NHB/NMRTC Bremerton COVID-19 lead and Public Health Emergency Officer, the effectiveness of  the swab testing for the submarine fleet homeported in the Pacific Northwest is a direct extension of the protective measures implemented at all commands to help curtail the spread of COVID-19.

Image of Hannah Carlson wearing a mask
Navy Hospital Corpsman 1st Class Hannah Carlson, assigned to Naval Hospital Bremerton's Urgent Care Clinic, oversees daily clinical duties during the command's ongoing effort to help stop the spread of COVID-19. Carlson's efforts the past months have her highly regarded as the linchpin for the UCC.  (Official Navy photo by Douglas H Stutz, NHB/NMRTC Bremerton public affairs officer)

“Testing is not as important as physical distancing, wearing facial coverings and proper hygiene practices, explained Uniszkiewicz. “However, with these measures in place, large scale surveillance testing has provided another layer of confidence that our units preparing to deploy are both ready and safe to do so.”

The swab testing itself is unique simply because having a foreign object inserted into the nasal passage is not a common experience. The hospital corpsman inserts the swab – similar to a longer version of a Q-tip – deep into a person’s nose where it is whirled around for several seconds to collect secretion sample necessary for testing.

Taking the sample is just the initial step. Uniszkiewicz noted that NMRTC Bremerton has not been alone in the task of ensuring units are ready to deploy. It’s been a team-effort across the board with a number of support layers in place.

“Our testing efforts would not be possible without the collaboration with Madigan Army Medical Center laboratory. Additionally, serviced commands are stepping up by conducting their own contact tracing for which our Preventive Medicine team has conducted training. For large scale testing, it has been a tri-service effort to meet the demands for supply, transport, and tracking in order to preserve (COVID-free) ‘bubbles’ around units before deployment, during deployment, and after deployment when they return,” explained Uniszkiewicz.

At NMRTC Bremerton, there are noticeable safeguards added, e.g., waiting room seating has been changed to be six feet apart and areas to stand are also marked six feet apart. Per Department of Defense directive, it is also mandatory for all staff, patients and visitors to wear either a facial covering or mask. Only one visitor is allowed per patient and frequent cleaning of ‘high touch’ areas is now standard procedure, even more so that in the past. Although non-urgent surgeries have resumed and face-to-face encounters have gradually increased, virtual appointments are continuing to be offered.

Screening and testing protocol is also in place for all those eligible for care at NMRTC Bremerton.

“Screening upon entry to the facility is an invaluable mitigation strategy to keep COVID-like illness out of the hospital proper and direct it toward our Urgent Care Center and tents.  This, along with universal use of facial coverings, reassures our patients, their families, and our staff that we are dedicated to keeping them as safe as possible within our facilities,” Uniszkiewicz said.

The screening process really begins prior to an appointment as patients are contacted for pre-screening checks. Once a person arrives at the command, there are staff directing traffic flow to guide them. They are directed through the screening process which begins with a series of questions. Depending on the replies, the patient will be directed to either a treatment tent or testing area, or given the ‘green light’ to enter the hospital following the protective measures in place.

Additionally, before entering the hospital or clinic, if a person does not have a facial covering, they will be provided one to wear at all times when in the hospital.

At NHB/NMRTC Bremerton and across the Navy, medical providers and staff are ensuring patients are properly cared for in the COVID-19 environment, while still maintaining operational readiness.

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