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NEWS | April 20, 2020

Brentwood, Tenn., Army Reserve physician mobilized to support DOD COVID-19 response

By Lt. Col. Meritt Phillips Army Reserve Medical Command

“If ever there was a well-matched military assignment, this is one of them,” said Lt. Col. Melinda Henderson, an Army Reserve physician assigned to Boston Hope Hospital. It’s a temporary COVID-19 facility set up at the Boston Convention and Event Center in Massachusetts.

“I think there is no greater mission than supporting our nation in this time of crisis domestically,” said Henderson.

“Eighteen months ago, when I joined the Army, I wondered if I was a little crazy. I joined at the age of 42,” Henderson said. “Not just my age and disruption to my work and family, but I am a geriatrician and what would the Army ever need with a geriatrician? A geriatrician is an expert in the branch of medicine or social science dealing with the health and care of older people.

The Boston Hope Hospital, where she is serving while mobilized, is officially classified by the Massachusetts Department of Health as a Long Term Acute Care facility. “So, it ends up the Army really needs a geriatrician and I am finding myself at the right place at the right time, and I’m so excited to serve!” Henderson said.

Henderson is one of more than 1,200 Army Reserve medical professionals that have been mobilized in Urban Augmentation Medical Task Forces as part of the Department of Defense response to COVID-19. Specifically created to respond in this time of crisis, each UAMTF is designed to assist the civilian medical community by delivering a wide range of critical medical capabilities, including medical providers, nurses, respiratory therapists and an infectious disease specialist. Each 85-Soldier team is capable of supporting 250 low-acuity patients.

“Boston learned from New York City. There is a real need for a place to care for individuals who are COVID-19 positive, yet well enough to leave the intensive care of the hospital, but still need acute rehabilitation and convalescence before returning to the community,” Henderson said. “If home is a nursing facility, group living or assisted living, they need care until they are no longer infectious to other residents in congregant living.”

Henderson explains her team is taking care of COVID-19 patients who have rehabilitation needs, like physical and occupational therapy, or need more help getting their chronic medical condition managed before returning home.

The Brentwood, Tennessee resident earned her medical degree from Emory University in Atlanta and completed her internal medicine residency in the University of Chicago Hospitals. Henderson went on to complete a geriatrics fellowship at Vanderbilt University in Nashville.

The self-proclaimed “Army brat” divulged her father’s 30 years of military service influenced her decision to join the military. “I carried his commitment to serve our country, and I finally took the step to join later in life because I knew there was a need for physicians.”

Henderson, in her home unit, is assigned as a 61F, an internal medicine physician. Her unit is the Army Reserve Medical Command, South East Medical Readiness Area Support Group, 7459th Medical Backfill Battalion in Fort Gordon, Georgia. In her civilian employment, since she is a board-certified geriatrician, she works with elderly and disabled patients.

When asked what advice she would offer other military colleagues mobilizing, Henderson emphasized, “This will be a marathon and not a sprint, which means it will be hard. We need to stay focused and continue to plan for the worst-case scenario. We need to take mental and physical breaks and look out for each other. We just have to keep putting one foot in front of the other to win the fight against COVID-19.”