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NEWS | Oct. 5, 2020

Covid Response at University Hospital Saved Lives and Changed Soldiers

By (Courtesy article) 3d Medical Command (Deployment Support)

The U.S. Army Reserve Medical Response to COVID-19 will be one of many topics discussed during AUSA's annual meeting – virtual edition – Oct. 13-16 as part of the Warriors Corner exhibition.

“One of the nurses as we came in said, ‘It feels like Christmas,'” said Maj. Erin Velazquez, commander of Urban Augmentation Medical Task Force 332-1, as she fought to hold back tears during an interview with NJTV News. “It hits your heart.”

She was speaking about her team’s welcome at University Hospital in Newark, N.J. UAMTF 332-1 was sent to New Jersey in April, as a first of its kind military response to COVID-19. “Our integration into the hospital was seamless,” Velazquez said. “Upon our arrival we were greeted with open arms.”

The medical task force Velazquez led was a U.S. Army Reserve unit, specifically created to respond to this crisis, comprised of 85 healthcare professionals and support personnel. UAMTF 332-1, was one of over a dozen units sent to hospitals in need of support, during the emerging COVID-19 crisis.

Prior to the arrival of UAMTF 332-1, University Hospital, struggled to keep pace with patient needs said Dr. Shereef Elnahal, president and CEO of University Hospital. The nurse-to-patient ratio had risen to alarming levels when the Soldiers showed up to plug “very key gaps” in their frontline workforce, he said.

Conditions on the ground were daunting, rooms at University hospital were filled to capacity and its emergency room had exceeded capacity. Adding to the urgency, the doctors and nurses at the hospital, were working around the clock for weeks, both supporting the record patient influx and filling in for providers dealing directly with COVID-19.
None of the Soldiers had experience treating a novel virus in a hospital setting before, but one thing that Soldiers brought to the table was a diverse civilian experience. “When we first arrived, we quickly realized how desperate the facility was for us to be there. Many of us as ICU nurses were easily able to integrate into the critical care float pool,” said Capt. Paola Hamilton, Critical Care Nurse with UAMTF 332-1.

UAMTF 332-1 expanded the ability of University Hospital to tend to all patients, to include COVID-19 positive patients, as they worked together to combat the spread of the virus and care for those patients requiring supportive medical care.

“Although we were only on ground providing medical care for six-weeks, this was an immensely impactful six-weeks,” said Velazquez. Adding, by the time the Soldiers left, the hospital was operating as normal.

 “I have never seen anything quite like this in my twenty-plus years in the Army,” said Velazquez. Adding, “Many lives were not only saved but forever touched by the collaborative impact between the Department of Defense and state health care professionals.”


Sgt. ShaTyra Reed, 22nd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment contributed to this story.