By Douglas H. Stutz, Naval Hospital Bremerton Public Affairs
BREMERTON, Wash. (NNS) -- Operational Health Support Unit (OHSU) Naval Hospital Bremerton (NHB) provided important medical and dental screening requirements for Navy Reservists April 14-15.
The examinations are not only an annual responsibility to ensure all Navy Reserve personnel are fit for deployment, but the physical exams are potentially even more imperative due to the announced shift of manpower requirements for future individual augmentee (IA) responsibilities next year.
"Our goal is to achieve and maintain our medical and dental readiness to a level at least 95 percent of our total Navy Reservist force. We serve a fairly large region in Reserve Component Command Northwest, with NHB as the hub. NHB is right in the middle of a large Pacific Northwest regional concentration of submarine, surface and air assets. All of us on the Navy Medicine Team, including nurses, hospital corpsmen and medical/dental providers have to help ensure all of our Navy Reservist assets are up to date and ready to deploy if and when called upon," said Capt. Harry Ward, OHSU Bremerton senior medical executive, and physician specialist/professor of Medicine at the Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.
"Taking care of our own is what we do. As such, we simply have to have medically and dentally ready forces. Our Reserve detachments back up and support many of our local commands in this area, and we bring reservist medical providers in from all over the region. We want to reach out and touch everyone and not be constrained by geography in any way when asked to support. One of the latest messages from Adm. Nathan, our Navy surgeon general, said that to maintain our fighting forces, our Navy Reserves have to continue to be a critical part and continue to contribute a lot," said Ward, who has served in Navy Reserves for over 20 years, with three deployments. He has been in Operation Desert Storm in 1991, Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan for 2006, as well as Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany during 2009.
Ward's experience in Desert Storm further solidifies his emphasis on having medical and dental readiness up to date. According to Ward, during Desert Storm, nearly 40 percent of Navy Reservists were deemed not qualified for active duty due to dental issues with periodontal disease.
Capt. William Creed, OHSU Reserve liaison officer (RLO) and head dental officer, also remembers well Desert Storm, as well as before.
"Historically, all of our efforts before that time were lax. We were recalling Reservists who were not medically or dentally qualified. Now it's much different. My main job is to coordinate the dental readiness for the whole region with all the Navy Operational Support Centers (NOSC) and Reserve Commands (REDCOMs)," said Creed, a Vancouver, Wash. resident.
Cmdr. Tim Labrosse, RLO and Reserve dentist, estimates that he and his dental team monthly provide an average of 70 to 80 screenings to Reservists.
"I can average eight to ten dental examinations an hour. Every Sailor I see is an important asset for us. My goal when they come in for the screening is to assess them for deployment and make sure they won't have emergency dental needs, if and when they deploy. Nothing is more costly than sending a person in and out of an IA assignment for dental care. There's lost manpower hours, logistical expenditures, and travel costs. It all adds up. Before a Sailor departs from here, they will know what category they are concerning their dental readiness," said Labrosse.
There are four classifications for dental readiness. Class 1. Patients not requiring dental treatment or reevaluation within 12 months. Class 2. Patients who have oral conditions that, if not treated or followed up, have the potential but are not expected to result in dental emergencies within 12 months. Class 3. Patients who have oral conditions that if not treated are expected to result in dental emergencies within 12 months. Patients should be placed in Class 3 when there are questions in determining classification between Class 2 and Class 3. Class 4. Patients who require dental examinations. This includes patients who require annual or other required dental examinations and patients whose dental classifications are unknown.
"Dental readiness is just an example of waking up to the need for healthy fighting forces ready to be part of the 'edge of the sword.' As part of those forces, we want to continue to contribute and maintain continuity and leadership with the large amount of Navy Reservists in the Pacific Northwest and throughout the Western states," Ward said.
OHSU Bremerton is currently handling medical and dental readiness screenings for18 detachments with approximately 900 total personnel stationed in North Dakota, South Dakota, Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Oregon, Washington, and Alaska. There are Navy Reserve centers in such places as Sioux Falls S.D., Fargo, N.D., Fort Carson and Denver Colo., Cheyenne, Wyo., Billings and Helena, Mont., Pocatello, Idaho, Central Point, Ore. Tacoma, Bangor, and Everett, Wash. and Fort Richardson, Alaska. There are also corpsmen coming to NHB from farther afield out of Minnesota and Texas (Current compiled official Navy figures from April 2, 2012, list the total number of U.S. Navy Reserve component as 64,118).
One innovative means to handle medical and dental readiness in the vast, mostly rural area is by sending a traveling team of core Navy medical staff to specific Navy Operational Support Centers.
"Our training team is made up of physician/providers, nurse practitioners, and dental officers to go out and handle medical and dental needs all over the 15 state regional commands. Many of our Navy Reserve centers are scattered over large areas of geiography, so it's value added to do all we can to keep that readiness up to date by going to the detachments, rather than having their personnel come to us," said Ward.
"The work never stops. It can take a lot of time to arrange logistics throughout our region to support Navy Medicine West, even as far away as Okinawa and Guam," said Ward.
Another important part of OHSU's overall mission is to backup and assist NHB and BUMED by providing doctors, nurses, hospital corpsmen and technician support.
"Whoever and whatever the CNO or Surgeon General needs, we will put out a message for support and operationally start looking at whom we have available," Ward said.
"What we have now in Navy Medicine and the Navy, as a whole, is a truly integrated service. It used to be that reservists were just backfill for some positions, but we are now integrated across the board. Camaraderie has really greatly improved since the first Gulf War," Ward said.