By Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Maddelin Angebrand and Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Derek Paumen, USS Comfort Public Affairs
CARIBBEAN SEA (NNS) -- Medical professionals embarked aboard the Military Sealift Command hospital ship USNS Comfort (T-AH 20) worked alongside Belizean medical professionals to provide medical care at the Hattieville Government School, Independence High School and aboard Comfort April 10-18 during the humanitarian assistance mission Continuing Promise 2015 (CP-15).
Continuing Promise is a collaborative effort with partner nations to conduct civil-military operations including humanitarian-civil assistance, subject matter expert exchanges, medical, dental, veterinary and engineering support and disaster response to partner nations, demonstrating U.S. support and commitment to Central America, South America and the Caribbean.
The medical professionals comprised of U.S Navy, Army and Air Force service members and volunteers from the non-governmental organizations - Registered Nurse Response Network, University of California San Diego Pre-Dental Society, Latter Day Saints Charities and Project Hope partnered with Belizeans at each medical site and aboard Comfort to provide a wide range of medical services to the citizens of Belize.
Medical site one (M1) was set up at the Hattieville Government School, which served a total of 3,864 patients in nine days. The site consisted of several small buildings, and the majority of the patients were treated inside small classrooms. Waiting areas were set up outside to accommodate the amount of patients waiting to receive care daily.
"The front half of the site was medical specialties," explained Cmdr. John Devlin, the officer in charge at the Hattieville Government School medical site. "We had general medicine, pediatrics and sub-specialists as well. Those sub-specialists were able to offer cardiology, gastroenterology, dermatology and physical therapy services."
Sub-specialists like X-ray and optometry presented an opportunity for the citizens to have a very specific condition or question addressed, Devlin added.
Medical site two (M2), comprised of Independence High School and the Independence Polyclinic, served 2,676 patients and was located in a remote area of Belize. Medical professionals travelled by bus for four hours to reach the site. The majority of the medical team remained overnight at the site for the duration of CP-15's mission in Belize.
"With this site being very rural, the residents have limited access to medical care. I feel like we were really able to improve the quality of life here, making diagnosis and getting people plugged back in to see their primary care doctor." said Lt. Cmdr. Jonathan McDivitt, a cardiologist embarked aboard Comfort.
Each medical site was organized to ensure patients were checked in properly and received the care they needed. Patients at both sites were allowed to receive one treatment per day, and in some cases were referred for surgery aboard Comfort.
"I've had a great experience in Belize. I spent a lot of time at the M1 site as a primary physician seeing patients, giving diagnosis and counseling them." said Army Capt. Jen Masel, a resident physician of Internal Medicine, assigned to the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. "There were days where I could instantly refer a patient to surgery and coordinate their care onboard the ship. So, it ended up being a very efficient way to get a lot of people the care they needed."
Comfort welcomed pre-screened patients, accompanied by one family member or escort, aboard the ship to receive surgery.
"We partnered with Carl Heusner Hospital in Belize where many patients had already been identified for various needs by local physicians." said McDivitt. "Once it was determined that they were a good candidate for surgery, a plan would be set for them to be transported to the ship for additional screening and surgery."
In total, the CP-15 team provided primary care to more than 6,500 patients, and performed more than 400 dental exams, more than 1,200 optometry exams and 101 surgeries.
"I liked the feeling of the camaraderie when I was at both the M1 and M2 sites. People were saying 'God bless you' and 'thank you for being here'. Overall, it was a rewarding experience," said McDivitt.
Continuing Promise is a U.S. Southern Command-sponsored and U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command/U.S. 4th Fleet-conducted deployment to conduct civil-military operations including humanitarian-civil assistance, subject matter expert exchanges, medical, dental, veterinary and engineering support and disaster response to partner nations and to show the United States' continued support and commitment to Central and South America and the Caribbean.