Opinion | Susan Knopf: When they come marching in, everybody gets a checkup | SummitDaily.com

Opinion | Susan Knopf: When they come marching in, everybody gets a checkup

Susan Knopf
For the Record

Local optometrist Dr. Jessica Hegewald has just returned to Summit County after spearheading a 10-day medical mission to serve Americans underserved by mainstream medicine. It isn’t just a giant medical giveaway. Oh goody, if you live near Cortland, N.Y., you get free care. Nope.

We have medical officers and personnel in our branches of service that need to be ready to deploy and render care on a large scale in an emergency. So instead of playing pretend war games, they treat real patients through Innovative Readiness Training. Many aspects of planning, equipping and staffing the program mimic real-world field operations. Instead of treating patients in medical facilities, the training program was conducted at Norwich High School and Homer Junior High School in upstate New York.

Maj. Hegewald’s optometric team examined 1,680 people. They checked for cataracts, glaucoma, performed diabetic eye exams and wrote prescriptions. They made 1,350 pairs of glasses that were handed out the same day or the next. If you are a soldier in battle and need new glasses, you need them now.

Nick Tyler told the Army Reserve Medical Command that he came to the training mission “… to get services that are really difficult to get.” And then he said something you don’t hear every day from patients leaving the doctor’s office. He said it was “a lot of fun. … The service people are wonderful.” Tyler said he has Medicare, and he’s really happy with it, but services aren’t always easy to get. Tyler said he participated in the training program three years ago and was happy to have an opportunity to do it again. He was delighted neither income nor age were barriers to care. “I’m always amazed at how pleasant the experience is,” he said.

“They’re very organized … and very thorough,” Marcey Hoffman told Medical Command. “Eyeglasses are terribly expensive and that kind of prohibits a lot of people from getting glasses. … It’s a great service.” Hoffman said she has medical insurance, “but it doesn’t pay for glasses. Last time, I paid over $800 for glasses.” This time, her glasses cost her nothing.

“All military glasses are made by an arm of the Navy called (Naval Ophthalmic Support and Training Activity).” Hegewald said. “… They also have training requirements to maintain readiness in a deployed setting. They bring a team … and they are on-site, making the glasses as the optometrists write the prescriptions. Their turnaround time was a couple hours from when they received the prescription. It took us a day to get the prescriptions to them from one of our sites, and the finished glasses were returned the next day.”

“Innovative Readiness Training events are the ultimate way to exercise joint cooperation and deployment medical skill sets in the U.S.,” said Maj. Gen. William Shane Lee, Commander of the 3rd Medical Command Deployment Support, in a news release

Silverthorne resident Maj. Jessica Hegewald, known locally as Dr. J, examines a patient at a Innovative Readiness Training clinic in Homer, New York.
Courtesy photo

Part of the challenge is integrating service members from different commands. Medical personnel in the training program came from the U.S. Army, Army Reserve, National Guard, U.S. Air Force Reserve, Air National Guard and U.S. Navy Reserve. They work together to create real-world treatment centers that spring up in the field, just as those might in a battlefield or in a natural disaster, and serve American communities, filling real-world needs.

By the numbers
  • 3,603 patients treated
  • 350 medical personnel from the U.S. Air Force, Army and Navy
  • More than $1.1 million worth of medical, dental, vision and vet care provided at no cost to the patient

Of course, “There’s no Such Thing as a Free Lunch,” to steal the title from famed economist and Nobel laureate Milton Friedman’s 1975 book on public policy. For the record, the cost of the training program is borne by the training budgets of participating units. Military personnel and patients alike report it’s a good thing.

“Overall, it was a great mission that I was happy to be a part of … but also happy to be home. Humidity is not really my thing,” Hegewald said. Communities can apply to become the beneficiary of an Innovative Readiness Training, which matches training needs and community needs.

Susan Knopf’s column “For The Record” publishes Fridays in the Summit Daily News. Knopf has worn many hats in her career, including working as an award-winning journalist and certified ski instructor. She moved to Silverthorne in 2013 after vacationing in Summit County since the 1970s. Contact her at sdnknopf@gmail.com.

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