DOD, Catholic health system team up to provide a week of care to uninsured

SAVANNAH, Ga. — For one week in May, uninsured and underinsured residents in a large portion of Southeast Georgia and its surrounding areas will have the opportunity to receive free health, dental, vision and veterinary care.

The free care is a team effort of St. Joseph’s/Candler health system, Georgia Southern University and the U.S. Department of Defense’s Innovative Readiness Training program.

Operation Empower Health-Greater Savannah, the name given to the local adaptation of the program, hopes to provide 6,000-plus people in the region with care they might not be otherwise able to afford over the course of nine days, May 10-18.

At a March 7 news conference, Lt. Col. Andrew Magnet of the 165th Airlift Wing medical group, who is the mission officer in charge, said that Innovative Readiness Training projects such as Operation Empower Health provide real-world training to the military. They also “build mutually beneficial civil/military partnerships in American communities while promoting national security, American prosperity and democratic strength,” he said.

The Catholic hospital system worked with Georgia Southern University — whose Armstrong campus will be one of four local locations where care will be provided — to complete the application that granted Savannah flagship status as both the largest and most robust of the DOD training program’s 14 medical projects organized this fiscal year.

St. Joseph’s/Candler also will be among various local community partners to refer and provide follow-up care if necessary.

“This is a win-win for everyone in our community — the military gets their training and the residents of Savannah will be provided no-cost medical care,” said Paul Hinchey, president and CEO of the Catholic health system, at the news conference. He noted earlier that “no one’s going to be turned away because of economic status.”

Operation Empower Health’s 400-plus “boots on the ground” will consist of active duty, reserve and National Guard soldiers, airmen, sailors and Marines from across the country. They will be working alongside health students from Georgia Southern University and possibly Savannah State University, another one of the locations where services will be provided and where soldiers may be stationed while they are here.

According to a news release, the specific units involved include: the lead unit 165th Airlift Wing based in Savannah; the Army Reserve’s 3rd Medical Command from Atlanta; the Multifunctional Medical Battalion from Savannah; the naval eyeglass fabrication unit from Virginia; and the Marine Corps Forces Reserves’ 4th Dental Battalion from New Orleans.

Also attending the news conference were Mayor Ed Bethune of Garden City and Mayor Eddie DeLoach of Savannah. The Recreation Department and Civic Center in their cities also will serve, respectively, as treatment sites as well as sites for the military to rest and recharge.

“We do want to do all we can do to help those that are underserved in our community, and I think this is a great example of our community coming together and having the opportunity to make a difference in people’s lives,” DeLoach said. “So, anything we can do, we will do.”

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Marsala is assistant to the editor of the Southern Cross, newspaper of the Diocese of Savannah.