By Tech. Sgt. Rebeccah Woodrow, 31st Fighter Wing, Public Affairs
/ Published May 14, 2020
A C-130 Hercules stationed out of Ramstein Air Base, Germany delivers pallets of medical equipment to Aviano Air Base, Italy, March 20, 2020. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Rebeccah Woodrow)
The mission statement of the 31st Medical Support Squadron at Aviano Air Base, Italy is “No Support, No Success”. This statement could not have been tested more than when COVID-19 presented itself in Italy.
To actively carry on their mission, the 31st MDSS set up a specialized Medical Support Response Team (MSRT) in direct response to necessary changes of operations.
Since the COVID-19 response kicked off, the members of the 31st MDSS have shown resilience and innovation by becoming the first military treatment facility in the Air Force to test for the virus and set the U.S. Air Forces in Europe standard for procurement.
The Laboratory team was able to coordinate approval from the Pentagon Lab Liaison to redesign its biological detection equipment for in-house COVID-19 testing capability less than 72 hours from collection, which established same-day testing and eliminated 7-day delays in test results.
Along with the Laboratory team, Medical Logistics and Medical Readiness flights partnered with the 31st Logistics Readiness Squadron to transfer a $464,000 deployable En-Route Patient Staging System to our Italian partners. This capability can serve 40 patients per day at the epicenter of the European outbreak.
Many of the MRST’s efforts required more than just teamwork, but also, the right amount of supplies to sustain their mission of patient care. The Resource Management team stood ready to support by guaranteeing proper funding and coding of COVID-19 purchases.
“We set the standard on how these purchases are made and provided initial lessons learned to fellow USAFE bases and the [Air Force Medical Readiness Agency],” said Capt. Megan Howell, 31st MDSS Resource Management and Personnel flight commander. “In the beginning phase, we executed a Third AF directive to rapidly purchase some of our larger items, to include the laboratory analyzer and the actual test kits. We worked with our Medical Logistics flight to restore our pandemic PPE stock.”
“We continue to stand by, financially supporting COVID-19 efforts while ensuring daily operations, funding initiatives and manpower efforts remain intact,” said Howell.
Empowered by innovation, the Pharmacy was the first to design and implement alternative dispensing operations.
“The pharmacy sees the highest volume of patient contacts compared to any other section in the 31st Medical Group,” explained U.S. Air Force Maj. Jason Bingham, 31st MDG Pharmacy flight commander. “In order to protect our staff and our patients, we thought through what processes we could modify to help prevent the spread of a communicable disease.”
Bingham said, “Early on, we modified our pickup process to make it a ‘no-touch’ process, and also tried to proactively fill routine medication refills for patients to prevent repeat trips to the MDG solely for prescriptions.”
Other sections of the COVID-19 Medical Support Response Team included the Systems team, who configured and issued laptops for MDG personnel to telework, and TRICARE personnel, who had to overcome extensive travel restrictions to make sure members were able to receive urgent out-of-area medical treatment.
From base to home, the 31st MDSS MRST stayed ready to support their mission.
“Our flight configured and issued 50 laptops for personnel to telework within 6 days of notification,” explained Master Sgt. Carlos Alvarado, 31st MDSS Systems flight chief. “We obtained 30 additional laptops, rushed from HHQs, and issued them within two weeks.”
Alvarado added, “The thing about our squadron is that we all work together, as a team, every day. This experience has only grown the relationships amongst the flights.”
Capt. Kimberly Smith, Medical Readiness flight commander, said, “COVID-19 has been an opportunity for many people on the Unit Control Center/Epidemiology team to step outside their comfort level and take on new roles. The team has excelled at meeting these challenges by working together - while everyone has a certain role, all members are willing to step in and help each other get the task done.”
Working together with our host nation partners was also a key element for a successful response.
Capt. Theresa (Tara) Hall, 31st MDSS TRICARE Operations and Patient Administration flight commander, said, “Pordenone provided us with the amount of COVID patients they had in their ICU and available bed status daily. They also have worked with us closely on COVID screening processes and availability of appointments as decrees have changed.”
“The key to our success during these challenging times is our relationship we have with our host nation medical facilities,” said Hall. “We cannot thank them enough for their consistent communication and support.”
By tapping into their teamwork, resiliency and innovative ideas, the COVID-19 Medical Support Response Team of the 31st MDSS has proven true their motto of “No Support, No Success.”
“The MSRT team was critical in allowing the 31st MDG to continue to provide medical services to the wing despite the challenges of COVID-19,” said Bingham. “Our team along, with all of the other teams who have been working day and night to support the base, prove why our Group is ready, reliable, and trusted in wartime, contingency, and in this case, pandemic scenarios.”