ATSUGI, Japan -- After two years, the coronavirus pandemic continues to maintain a presence throughout the entire world. According to the World Health Organization, to date, countries have reported more than 376 million confirmed cases of COVID-19, to include more than five million COVID-19 deaths (5,666,064 deaths), while over 9.9 billion vaccine doses having been administered.
The impact that the pandemic has had on the world’s health care system has been dramatic; long hours, fatigue, lack of proper PPE and resources to include short staffing are just some of the contributing factors illustrating the global reach of the virus.
The Naval Medical Readiness and Training Unit (NMRTU) onboard Naval Air Facility (NAF) Atsugi provides primary health services, dental services and flight medicine to approximately 30 commands and activities stationed aboard the installation. Even though health care is provided to a significantly smaller demographic than a metropolitan area, it still poses its own challenges.
“NMRTU Atsugi is experiencing many of the same obstacles that health care facilities in the states and around the world is facing,” said Cmdr. William Bennet, NMRTU Atsugi Officer in Charge. “In spite of all this, I am proud to say that we have still been able to sustain all of our services during the pandemic.”
Health care at NMRTU is limited to primary medical and dental care which also includes routine obstetrics services, but deliveries are performed at U.S. Naval Hospital (USNH) Yokosuka. For those who seek specialty care, they are usually referred to USNH Yokosuka, though some may be referred to local Japanese health providers.
“The only service that was affected for two weeks was appointments for dependent routine dental care,” said Bennett. “At the spike of this latest wave of COVID, we utilized a portion of our dental staff to conduct tracing. Active duty and emergent dental care was still available for all eligible beneficiaries and we were able to keep Primary Care open for routine appointments.”
NMRTU serves a customer base of approximately 5,100 eligible beneficiaries. This number does not include the clinic’s must-see patients, which consist of veterans, contractors, and un-enrolled eligible.
With these categories, it is estimated to add about 1,500 additional beneficiaries.
Despite minimal manning availability, Bennett believes that staff members have still been able to perform their duties in a proficient and professional manner.
Staff members, which consist primarily of hospital corpsmen have been cross trained in multiple disciplines which has allowed the clinic to continue offering all services while manning a daily COVID operation consisting of ROM testing, pre-travel testing, exit ROM, and so forth.
“This has resulted in longer work days and added stress on many of our staff members,” said Bennett. “We were essentially given a new mission with existing and limited resources to execute a plan as it pertains to COVID.”
He continued on.
“The pandemic has forced us to change our staffing models so we can continue to provide care to our population. We never closed our doors or stopped providing healthcare at any point during the pandemic. It was important to us that we continue to take care of everyone onboard NAF Atsugi while combating COVID.”
Staff members shared his sentiments.
“My corpsman training has helped me tremendously while stationed here at the clinic during the pandemic,” said Hospital Corpsman Genesis Santiago. “I enjoy my job and I feel that if I enjoy my job, it means that I am happy at what I am doing. When I think about this from a teammate and a customer perspective, even though it has been challenging for us all while going through this pandemic, I just encourage everyone to just take it one day at a time.”