Fort Polk Community
Community partners gather for MEDEVAC conference at Fort Polk
Story by Chuck Cannon on 03/11/2019
By JEAN C. GRAVES
Public Affairs Specialist
FORT POLK, La. The commanding general of the Joint Readiness Training Center and Fort Polk hosted a medical evacuation conference for local and state agencies, first responders and medical professionals from six parishes at the Mission Training Center here on Feb. 28.
The symposium was a strategic engagement to improve communication and relationships with parish partners regarding the approval process to deploy Army MEDEVAC flight assistance to outside agencies. Its goal was to educate participants, formalize the request procedures and promote a shared understanding of what Fort Polk can and cannot do related to MEDEVAC.
Brig. Gen. Patrick D. Frank, JRTC and Fort Polk commanding general, opened the conference by thanking participants for attending and initiating the dialogue between Fort Polk and the surrounding community regarding air MEDEVAC operations.
“We want to continue to be great neighbors here at Fort Polk and JRTC, and we want to help out in any way we can, but we want to do it in the correct manner,” Frank said.
Participants included law enforcement officials, fire departments, hospitals, civilian medical transportation companies and government agencies from Beauregard, Calcasieu, Rapides, Natchitoches, Vernon and Sabine parishes.
Theresa Basco is the coordinator for the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness liaison for 10 parishes. She recommended agencies contact GOHSEP first if they have a need that is beyond their capabilities during an emergency.
“The conference was an important first step in bringing the community together for setting appropriate expectations of response,” Basco said.
The Installation Staff Judge Advocate Col. Thomas E. Schiffer discussed the immediate response authority in support of civil authorities, including search, rescue, evacuation and medical treatment regarding the request and use of air assets. Schiffer said requests from civil authorities must be in writing, there must be an agreement to reimburse and the condition must be imminently serious. An imminently serious condition includes anything that has the potential for loss of life, limbs or eyesight.
Mark Leslie, chief of Plans and Operations, Directorate of Plans, Training, Mobilization and Security, illustrated the procedures when a call for MEDEVAC comes to Fort Polk. He said calls will be routed through the installation operations center at 531-4916. He provided participants with a list of questions that will be asked when requests are made.
Leslie described the mission authority required to execute or deny off-post MEDEVAC mission requests and highlighted the order of precedence when prioritizing support. Leslie said it is important parish partners understand the JRTC and Fort Polk mission, the inherent responsibilities for those who live, work and train here and the constraints for providing MEDEVAC for off-post agencies.
“We will continue to maintain our great relationship with our parish partners and we want to help, especially when it comes to life, limb or eyesight,” he said. “But sometimes we are unable to because of the obligation we have to those training here.”
Fort Polk is one of the few continental United States installations with air MEDEVAC capabilities. The 1st Battalion, 5th Aviation Regiment, U.S. Army Air Ambulance Detachment, “Cajun Dust Off,” is ready to respond 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Capabilities include six UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters with hoist and night vision capabilities. The No. 1 priority is to support the JRTC mission. When an emergency occurs, Cajun Dust Off has 15 minutes from the time the call is received to launch their crew. On average they are in the air within seven minutes. In addition to emergency evacuations, the unit has an obligation to Bayne-Jones Army Community Hospital to transfer patients across the region.
While the focus of the conference was MEDEVAC policies and procedures, Col. Marla Ferguson, BJACH commander, and Command Surgeon Maj. Bradley Tibbets explained the importance of timely notification to BJACH patient administration when Soldiers or family members are admitted to off-post hospitals. They reviewed the difference of care and handling of active duty patients who are permanently assigned to Fort Polk versus those assigned to rotational units. Ferguson also discussed the military provisions of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 and said they do not apply to family members. She said timely notification to the chain of command when a family member is admitted can aid a unit’s ability to provide the level of support that a family member deserves.
Throughout the conference, conversations developed relevant to individual agencies with the appropriate military personnel on site. Mary Tarver, safety manager for Christus St. Frances Cabrini Hospital and regional coordinator for Health Care Coalition District 6, recognized the importance of Fort Polk in the community and developing a greater understanding of the emergency management plan. She said the conference was valuable not only to gain an understanding of the MEDEVAC process and procedures but also to network with other emergency management professionals in the region.
“Emergency preparedness is about building relationships,” Tarver said. “It is best to get to know each other in advance of a disaster so when a crisis occurs each agency is already aware of each other’s capabilities and how to leverage those capabilities to save lives.