Smoky Mountain Medical IRT provides care to 5,800 citizens

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. John Wilkes
  • 180th Fighter Wing
More than 200 U.S. Navy, Air National Guard, Air Force Reserve and Army Reserve service members deployed to Hayesville and Bryson City for Smoky Mountain Medical Innovative Readiness Training, Aug. 2-10, 2017.

The two-week event brought together service members from various branches into a joint environment to provide medical, dental, ophthalmologic and veterinary services to more than 5,800 residents of Clay County, Swain County and the surrounding areas. These services included basic medical and wellness exams, optical exams and prescription eyeglasses, dental exams, extractions and fillings among others.

In addition, hundreds of people from surrounding communities volunteered their time to assist during the mission.

“Smoky Mountain Medical is bringing additional resources into our community to help those we don’t have the resources to reach,” said Janice Patterson, Clay County health director. “We have a lot of self-employed and small business employers who do not offer healthcare benefits. Unlike what many people think, the uninsured are most often employed hard working people who just can’t afford health insurance or they have a really high insurance deductible they can only meet if they have a major healthcare event with hospitalization.”

Hundreds of community members began lining up outside as early as 4 a.m. on Aug. 2 at Swain County and Hayesville High Schools in an effort to receive much needed medical services. As word of the event spread, people lined up overnight in hopes of beating the line.

Throughout the event, service members treated an average of more than 600 patients per day. Doors opened at 8 a.m. each day, where numbers were issued to patients on a first-come, first-served basis. In the waiting areas, service members assisted patients with filling out paperwork in preparation for being seen by a provider.

According to the Swain County Health Department, transportation availability and cost are the primary barriers to care in this region.
“[Smoky Mountain Medical provides] an opportunity for community members to receive medical, dental and visual care when they don’t have the insurance or extra money to afford these services,” Patterson said. “Many people live paycheck to paycheck.”

Dental care was in high demand at both locations during Smoky Mountain Medical IRT. Dental professionals provided a range of services including cleanings, tooth fillings, and extractions as well as evaluations and referrals if necessary.

“Health care is very expensive, I have three children,” said Ashley Riddle, a resident of Robbinsville, North Carolina, who visited the dental and vision clinic. “My husband is the only one working because I am going to school fulltime. It is very helpful that I am able to receive these services.”

Senior Airman Delaney Preston, a medic with the 180FW, recalled an encounter she had in which the family was very grateful. “Some children didn’t have shoes or any clothes to wear but a diaper,” said Preston. “It’s a reality that exists. I feel like I am doing something good and bringing happiness into the community.”

U.S. Air Force, Army and Naval optometrists provided more than 5,900 vision screenings and optical exams to patients resulting in more than 1,200 pairs of eyeglasses being produced.

“I am very thankful that the service members are able to help everybody, not many people get this option,” said Riddle.
Prior to visiting the vision clinic, Riddle was not aware she needed glasses.

Naval Ophthalmic Support & Training Activity, also known as NOSTRA, service members were on hand to produce prescription lenses on-site allowing patients to receive their glasses at no cost within 24 to 48 hours.

The training value for IRT missions is high. During Smoky Mountain Medical, service members completed more than 24,500 hours of training. In addition, IRT missions provide realistic training in austere environments while also providing a direct and lasting benefit to our communities.

Throughout the two-week event, military health care providers treated more than 5,800 patients and conducted more than 14,500 medical and dental procedures and exams. Veterinarians performed more than 1,300 neuter and spay procedures, vaccinations and exams. These services resulted in more than $1,000,000 in care provided.

“Smoky Mountain Medical provided a great two weeks of training while assisting fellow Americans,” said Lt. Col. Gary Easterly, medical planner at the 180th FW and officer-in-charge of Smoky Mountain Medical IRT. "Smoky Mountain Medical IRT is not only beneficial to the people that receive health care, but it fulfills necessary training requirements and increases readiness amongst our health professionals.”

The IRT is a civil-military program which builds mutually beneficial partnerships between U.S. communities and the Department of Defense to meet training and readiness requirements for active, reserve and National Guard service members and units while addressing public and society needs.

"It is great to see our airmen working side-by-side with other military personnel to help our own,” said Col. Kevin Doyle, commander of the 180th FW. "Their efforts have helped those who are unable to afford health care for themselves and their children, greatly improving their quality of life."