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News | Aug. 29, 2019

Comfort Staff Exchanges Medical Strategies with Colombian Counterparts

By Petty Officer 3rd Class Maria Llanos

SANTA MARTA, Colombia – Medical staff assigned to the hospital ship USNS Comfort (T-AH 20) met with Colombian military and civilian medical personnel to collaborate during subject matter expert exchanges (SMEE) at Battalion Cordoba military base, Aug. 20, and University Hospital Julio Méndez Barreneche, Aug. 26.

Over 90 medical personnel attended the discussions that aimed to increase cooperability between both the U.S. and Colombian militaries and health care professionals by exchanging information, best practices and treatment techniques.

“The intent is to ensure that we are an enduring partner with these nations and to build up interoperability, so that we can continue to work together in the future,” said Lt. Cmdr. Connie Johnson, officer in charge of the Comfort preventive medicine unit. “I think it’s a really good foundation that can be built upon.”

The SMEEs focused on a variety of practices such as military health protection that includedmeasures the Comfort medical professionals take to protect the health of service members and maintain mission readiness.

“It’s an event of supreme importance because the U.S. military is teaching us many ways to prevent epidemic illnesses that all under-developed countries, like Colombia, have to confront,” said Lt. Col. Janeth Rosero Reyes, Colombian army director of general medicine at Battalion Cordoba. “My entire team learned a lot of techniques and we will begin to share them with the goal to generate an impact in our foundation.”

Other important topics discussed included sanitation standards at medical sites and the importance of clean water.

“It’s imperative for us to have high sanitation standards such as clean bathroom facilities, floors and walls, and clean water that is free of toxins and safe to drink and use for medical procedures,” said Ensign Jason McCain, environmental health officer assigned to Comfort. “We have those standards not only to protect force health, but also to protect and ensure health and safety for the patients we see.”

Mental healthcare professionals discussed the causes and effects of stress in the military and shared techniques to help reduce stress including breathing exercises during tense situations.

“These exchanges end up having a much larger effect than just on the people who are attending,” said Cmdr. Ken Sausen, psychologist assigned to Comfort. “Those people pass on that information to their students and to other providers, perhaps to other generations of providers, which then has a much longer and stronger effect.”

During another SMEE, U.S. Navy nurses discussed their process for training within their community. This included evaluating their use of devices such as IV pumps, methods of infection prevention, and how well they communicate to other medical caregivers or patients.

“This SMEE presentation is focusing on different clinical skills that we find valuable to train our new nurses and corpsman when they first show up to their facility, and they’re just learning how to get started,” said Lt. Lauren Shuetz, a nurse assigned to Comfort. “We discussed some of those skills. Then we evaluated people on those skills and their ability to perform after their initial orientation.”

Comfort’s mission stop is accomplished through the efforts of medical and non-medical personnel. The Comfort team is comprised of military and civilian personnel from the U.S. and partner nations, including Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Mexico, and Peru, along with several U.S. and international non-governmental organizations, creating a dynamic team capable of delivering a variety of services.

This marks Comfort’s seventh deployment to the region since 2007. At each of the upcoming missions, the embarked medical teams will provide care aboard Comfort and at two land-based medical sites, helping to relieve pressure on national medical systems caused partly by increase in Venezuelan migrants.

This deployment is part of the U.S. Southern Command’s Enduring Promise initiative and reflects the United States’ ongoing commitment to friendship, partnership, and solidarity with partner nations in the Caribbean, Central America, and South America.

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