ABBEVILLE, La. - For 10 straight days, National Guard Airmen from more than a dozen different units across the United States - to include the Madison, Wis.-based 115th Fighter Wing - helped Louisiana residents with their health, dental and optometry needs.
A group of 15 service members from various units were the first to set up for Cajun Care 2014, which took place in Abbeville, La., Feb. 25-March 6.
"We came down three days prior to the arrival of the main body," said Senior Master Sgt. James F. McCloskey of the 177th Medical Group and Cajun Care 2014 noncommissioned officer in charge. "The early arrival gave us time to prepare."
Combined, more than 100 Air National Guard and Navy personnel joined them Feb. 23.
"We gave them their lodging on the first day, and then we all went to Shucks for a cultural brief," McCloskey said.
The night at Shucks, a local restaurant, gave the group a chance to integrate themselves into the community by meeting local residents and building a better understanding of the community's healthcare needs.
The second day allowed the Guardsmen an opportunity to work with and get to know their Navy counterparts. By doing so, they were able to prove their ability to provide needed services to others from a deployed location.
"We have a concept in family medicine, which is my specialty, called team-based care," said Lt. Col. Franklin "Brad" Meyers of the 115th Fighter Wing medical group and a Cajun Care 2014 participant. "This is the picture of team-based care. It's not just Air teams and not just Navy teams, but Air and Navy teams working together."
The Air National Guard and Navy personnel's team-based care took place throughout Cajun Care 2014, allowing them to service more than 3,000 civilian patients. Due to the demand for services, Cajun Care 2014 operated under a first-come, first-served basis.
Patients started the process by waiting outside the building. They were ushered by Guardsmen into the facility in groups of 30-40.
Once inside, the patients were required to attend 15-30 minute briefings before they were moved to waiting areas to be seen by nurses and doctors.
Meyers was one of the daily briefers.
"One thing we had discussed early on was the importance of doing some patient education, so everyone is receiving 15 minutes of education prior to treatment," Meyers said. "We routinely briefed the importance of hand-washing, discussed nutritional advice, encouraged exercise, provided an overview of dental health, recommended tips for preventing falls and encouraged use of bike helmets, seatbelts and car seats."
According to Meyers, the briefing also gave an overview of eye care, and the need for glaucoma screening and annual diabetic eye check-ups.
Once the Louisiana residents received their briefings, they were each given a different colored craft stick. Red, blue and white craft sticks were used to indicate medical, dental and optometry services respectively.
The medical section began treating patients by simply taking vitals. They checked blood pressure and patient temperatures, and if they felt it was necessary, also tested blood sugars.
"If their blood sugar is really high, we immediately have to transport them to the hospital for care," said Maj. Rachael Neisner of the 173rd Medical Group and a Cajun Care 2014 participant. "These people need care and we're here to do just that."
According to Neisner, the majority of patients were looking for optometry and dental care. The optometry portion of Cajun Care 2014 examined patients for vision and glaucoma. If they needed glasses, the glasses were made at the facility and were ready for pick-up the following day.
The dental portion of Cajun Care 2014 spent the majority of their time pulling teeth.
"Their teeth are so decayed they are breaking off when they are pulled," Neisner said.
The environment down here is completely different than back home for most of these service members.
"On base we're just going through the motions," Neisner said. "You have to be healthy to be in the military, so we seldom see problems. Down here you're working with people who aren't healthy. We're excited to be here, and we're happy to do what we can to help."