On Friday, a few dozen nurses and administrators lined the second floor hallway of Adventist Health Lodi Memorial, holding “thank you” and “good-bye” signs to bid farewell to a medical assistance team that helped combat the COVID-19 surge that started in July.
Adventist Health staff cheered on the 20 members of the Department of Defense medical team as they walked through the corridor for the final time.
Thursday was the team’s last day providing logistic and medical support, and on Friday they turned in their guest badges.
Goldie Smith, the hospital’s emergency department director, said the support team was instrumental in streamlining the testing and registration process through the large white triage tent set up outside.
The team performed similar operations at Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield, she said, treating patients who had returned from cruises when the pandemic first began in March.
“When they came, they brought all their ideas,” Smith said. “Just their set of eyes ... ‘Why do cars come in this way?’ or, ‘Why are they going over here?’ Just those things that we missed.”
Shortly after the team’s arrival in mid-July, new parking sandwich boards were placed along the southbound side of Fairmont Avenue between Vine and Cardinal streets, and guard poles were placed on the street to guide visitors into the emergency room.
In addition, signs were placed at the emergency room driveway, alerting visitors that general parking access was only available off Ham Lane. The changes made it easier for staff to treat COVID-19 patients quickly and efficiently, Smith said.
“Basically they taught us how to get the city involved, and create one way direction for traffic and making sure we’re separating (patients) as soon as we seem them,” she said. “Not only did they show us, but they actually worked (the triage tent) with us. So they were actually there troubleshooting along the way. It made things go so much smoother, and definitely safer.”
The federal team was deployed to Adventist Health Lodi Memorial on July 22, about five days after the hospital saw a surge in patients with COVID-19.
The surge was due to the Independence Day holiday, when many residents were hosting large gatherings and not following safety protocols such as social distancing and wearing masks, according to Dr. Patricia Iris, the hospital’s chief medical officer.
The day the team was deployed to Lodi, the hospital was treating 36 COVID-19 patients, six of whom were in the Intensive Care Unit. On Thursday, the team’s last day of work, Lodi Memorial was treating 16 patients with COVID-19. Seven of those patients were being treated in the ICU.
Air Force Senior Airman Kierra Brooks was one of the team members deployed to Lodi in July. A respiratory therapist, she said she was excited to come to Lodi, but seeing the first patient with COVID-19 to which she was assigned made her a little nervous.
“That went away instantly because work was needed to be done,” she said. “It was definitely a life-changing experience, because dealing with this type of patient, I’ve never seen anything like it. It was pretty eye opening.”
Some of the duties Brooks and other RTs were given during their deployment included managing patient ventilators and any non-invasive medical care. Brooks had completed similar training at a level one trauma center a couple years ago, and working at Lodi Memorial refreshed her memory, she said.
“At first it was overwhelming compared to what we have at Travis, but most of the RTs were willing to teach me a little bit more and I got a lot of experience here,” she said. “I was really comfortable working with them. I actually had fun, because it was a lot of busy work, and I worked with a lot of critical patients, helping them out.”
Iris said the team arrived at a difficult time for the hospital, as not only had there been a huge surge of patients, but 20 hospital staffers were unable to come to work.
“We had patients lined up in our emergency department,” she said. “It was a hard time taking care of all the patients. It was tough, but your presence, your attitude, your commitment ... You’re part of our family. And you spent time learning with us and understanding what is it to be in a global pandemic. And we’re just so thankful for everything you’ve done for us. You’re one of us, and we’re deeply appreciative.”
Air Force Maj. Alisha Florence presented Iris with an Aerospace Medicine coin from Col. Justin Nast at Travis AFB to symbolize unity and teamwork.
The history of presenting the coin dates back to World War I, Florence said, when an Allied Forces pilot was shot down over Germany and was able to sneak across the French border to safety.
When he was found, the French were unsure if the pilot was a traitor, and were set to execute him. But they recognized the medallion he wore, and it saved his life.
The coin is a sign that the Lodi Memorial staff were members of the Air Force team, she said.
“We couldn’t say enough nice things about our experience here,” she said. “You welcomed us with open arms. It was amazing. Any recommendation, anything we could do to help, you guys jumped on it. When our families needed to be evacuated from the fire, you guys offered to bring clothes for our kids. You offered to baby-sit our kids, dog-sit. We were family, and we appreciate that so much.”
Brig. Gen. Bob Suter, an Air Force emergency physician who was on hand to supervise the team, noticed a staffer holding a sign that read “Thank you for helping us fight World War C.”
He declared the sign “awesome,” and said he was at the hospital to honor a great team that included both the Air Force and Lodi Memorial staff.
“We’re proud that World War C is not just the military,” he said. “We’re proud that World War C is the entire health care community working together. You got an amazing Air Force special operations medical team in here to help with the toughest part of the battle, and now the battle is back to you, because this is a long fight, unfortunately. But we’re all in it together, and were proud to have been in it together with you.”