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Specialized team assists Navajo Nation COVID-19 response

Military personnel wearing face mask posing for a picture Naval Medical Center Portsmouth (NMCP)’s Rapid Rural Response Team (RRRT) deployed to Chinle Comprehensive Care Facility in Albuquerque, New Mexico to help the Navajo Nation in the fight against the Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) from Dec. 16, 2020 to March 12, 2021. From left to right: Navy officers – Navy Surgeon General Rear Adm. Bruce Gillingham, Lt.j.g. Maria Ramirez, Lt.j.g. Abigail Waller, Lt. Amanda Brock, Lt.j.g. Destanie Hoppe, Lt.j.g. Dakota Patterson, Force Master Chief Michael Roberts (Photo by: Navy Lt. Amanda Brock, taken Feb. 5, Tuba City Regional Medical Center).

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Naval Medical Center Portsmouth's Rapid Rural Response Team (RRRT) from Portsmouth, Virginia recently deployed to the Chinle Comprehensive Care Facility in Albuquerque, New Mexico to help the Navajo Nation in the fight against the COVID-19.

An RRRT is a small team comprised of specialized individuals that can be deployed to rural locations of the country to help augment and support civilian medical centers during the COVID-19 pandemic. They are seven person teams made up of physicians, nurses, and a respiratory therapist.

The Chinle Comprehensive Health Care Facility is a 60-bed hospital which serves as the health care hub for a large portion of the rural Navajo Nation population.

"The RRRT was immediately able to provide much needed relief to the overwhelmed staff," said Navy Lt. Amanda Brock, the RRRT's officer in charge. "We brought critical care nursing skills that were invaluable to caring for those patients that were rapidly declining and needed an elevated level of medical care."

After four weeks, five nurses were transitioned to Tuba City Regional Health Care in Tuba City, Arizona. A 73 bed hospital that provides services to a 6,000 mile area which includes the Navajo and Hopi reservations.

"People often associate military support, or Defense Support of Civil Authorities missions (DCSA), with large scale and localized responses to hurricanes, earthquakes and fires," said Navy Cmdr. Shane Lawson, the executive officer of Expeditionary Medicine Facility (EMF) Juliet. "In this case, Navy medical forces integrated into civilian facilities to maintain services during challenging times brought on by COVID-19. Without the assistance of military medical staff, the most at-risk healthcare facilities would face collapse."

The team of five nurses were able to provide staffing to increase the number of beds within two Intensive Care Units at the facility to help accommodate the large COVID-19 surge the hospital was experiencing between mid-December 2020 and the end of their deployment, which ended last week.

"It brought a new sense of what serving my country looks like," said Navy Hospital Corpsman 1st Class Daniel Allen, the RRRT's respiratory therapist. "We know that when we join we are joining to defend the constitution and protect our citizens, however, I never once thought I would be deploying within the United States to care for my own citizens.

The privilege and honor to serve my fellow country men and women as well as integrate with civilian hospitals and create lasting bonds and memories has easily been the highlight of my 14 year career."

As the U.S. Navy's oldest, continuously-operating military hospital since 1830, Naval Medical Center Portsmouth proudly serves past and present military members and their families. The nationally-acclaimed, state-of-the-art medical center, along with the area's 10 branch health and TRICARE Prime Clinics, provide care for the Hampton Roads area. The medical center also supports premier research and teaching programs designed to prepare new doctors, nurses and hospital corpsman for future roles in healing and wellness.

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