AL DHAFRA AIR BASE, United Arab Emirates --
The 380th Expeditionary Medical Group conducted a public health exercise at Al Dhafra Air Base, United Arab Emirates, Feb 18-22, 2019.
Throughout the day, simulated patients entered the hospital complaining of various ailments such as fever, fatigue, night sweats, nausea vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal, and back pain. As the medical staff filed these symptoms into their medical reports, Public Health was evaluated on their process of reviewing these reports to find the pattern and source of the problem.
“Public health applies preventive health expertise to reduce communicable disease, occupational illness, and injury for members across ADAB,” said Senior Master Sgt. Patricia Hughes, 380th EMDG superintendent of public health. “This principle is achieved through disease surveillance across all food service and public facilities on base as well medical intelligence briefings.”
This exercise was designed and executed to evaluate the wing’s ability to appropriately prepare, prevent, and mitigate the effects of a Public Health Emergency in order to maintain critical mission operations. It also serves as a controlled training environment in which they can identify strengths, weaknesses and gaps in the process.
“A biological incident can happen at any time, and the noticeable effects across the force may not present themselves for hours or even days,” said Maj. Brandon Cochran, 380th EMDG medical support flight commander. “Medical response to a public health incident is inherently complex due to the vast number of potential pathogens, which are by nature challenging to detect and identify. Furthermore, treatment is often disease-specific and can be difficult in deployed environments with limited local resources.”
The evaluation process focuses on the steps that Public Health must utilize in investigating a potential food borne illness. This includes a list of patient symptoms, a 72-hour food history, and aggregating the data in the form of descriptive epidemiology.
“The exercise allows public health to simulate a real world foodborne illness investigation, and ensures we stay ready and vigilant to keep ADAB focused on the mission,” said Hughes.
“A big lesson learned is the interaction Public Health must have with the clinical side of our operation,” added Hughes. “Throughout the exercise we communicated with the providers, front desk, and lab services on a continual basis to validate some of our early suspensions.”
In order to successfully train their staff, EMDG coordinated with other squadrons to make this exercise as realistic as possible.
“Just as a Public Health Emergency or an Incident of Public Health concern touches all facets of the base, this exercise was designed to engage all agencies across the wing,” said Cochran. “Most impacted were wing leadership, wing special staff, and the medical group. However, during the table-top review, all four groups and several select expeditionary mission support group and expeditionary operations group squadrons were included to round-out the conversation on recovery operations.”
The cohesiveness of the EMDG allowed a coordinated response that quickly identified and investigated the source of the foodborne illness.
“This exercise is a great example of the Phantom medics’ mantra, ‘How did you leave it better’?” said Cochran. “By committing to a week-long exercise to evaluate a critical response capability and subsequently capturing our lessons learned, we are not only making things better for Airmen on this rotation, but for the Airmen of all future rotations. Ultimately, it is our hope this type of situation never arises, but if it does, we know we have put the hard work in to solidify our response and we are ready to keep team ADAB healthy and in the fight.”