'Our WWII': Navy medical team deploys to NM to fight COVID - Albuquerque Journal

‘Our WWII’: Navy medical team deploys to NM to fight COVID

Hospital Corpsman Second Class Jessika Gomez, left, Hospital Corpsman Second Class Brian Rice, Cmdr. Nikunj Bhatt and Lt. Bob Geis of the Naval Medical Readiness Training Command team out of San Diego converse in the garden at the San Juan Regional Medical Center in Farmington on Dec. 11.(Mike Easterling/The Daily Times)

FARMINGTON – Nikunj Bhatt is a physician, but he also is a commander in the U.S. Navy. So it seems only logical that he processes many of his experiences from a military perspective and frames them in those terms.

When it comes to describing the medical community’s sense of urgency related to the effort to limit the spread of COVID-19 and mitigate its more severe effects, he offered the following assessment.

“In some ways, this is our World War II,” he said.

Bhatt is one of several members of a Naval Medical Readiness Training Command team from San Diego that was deployed to the San Juan Regional Medical Center on Dec. 3.

Their 30-day mission is to assist the hospital’s staff in managing its unprecedented COVID-19 caseload. He and three other members of the team recently sat down with The Daily Times to discuss their experiences here and how their assignment has affected them.

Bhatt’s description of the overall fight against the spread of the disease as comparable to a generation-defining global challenge perhaps belies a growing consensus that the battle against COVID-19 will not end anytime soon.

As the pandemic approaches its second anniversary early next year with no end in sight, Bhatt said that even though the setting may have changed for members of his team with this deployment, the objective remains the same. “We’ve been battling this throughout the world in multiple locations,” he said of teams like his.

“It’s been a powerful experience and a very rewarding experience,” he said. “… All of us have volunteered with the expectations that we will be doing these kinds of missions.”

Hospital Corpsman Second Class Jessika Gomez, a respiratory therapist, said her work with the team has been a great opportunity for professional development early in her career.

“This is a huge skill builder for a lot of us in terms of being malleable and being able to mobilize quickly,” she said. “That experience helps us grow in our knowledge and our assessments. … Sharing that knowledge and integrating that into our own practices is win-win for everyone.”

Hospital Corpsman Second Class Brian Rice, another respiratory therapist, said he only recently completed his training. He believes the work he is doing here will pay significant dividends for him down the line.

“I’m seeing more patients than I’ve ever seen,” he said. “That’s going to make me better prepared.”

Lt. Bob Geis, an internal medicine physician, said responding to the challenge of a situation like the one being faced by the San Juan Regional Medical Center is just the kind of thing his team was designed to handle.

“This is right in our wheelhouse,” he said.

This deployment has been very smooth so far, Geis and Bhatt said, lauding the professionalism and welcoming nature of the hospital administration and staff. Bhatt said the members of his team were seeing patients within 24 hours of arriving at the hospital.


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