FORREST CITY, ARKANSAS -- In rural Arkansas, Marine Corps, Army and Air Force Reserve unit service members helped low-income families receive medical care during Innovative Readiness Training Arkansas Care, July 30, 2014.
The mission of IRT Arkansas Care is serving the residents of a seven-county area, known as the Arkansas Delta region, which covers the northeastern area of Arkansas along the Tennessee border. The joint-service Reserve units are providing a variety of general medical, optometry and dental services at no cost to the residents in an economically challenged area.
“This is a God sent blessing for us,” said Nina Phillips, resident of Newport, Arkansas. “Usually if you don’t have the money to see a doctor you just have to suffer.”
According to Lt. Cmdr. Rebecca Neill, Naval officer-in-charge at IRT Arkansas Care, as many as 25 percent of all adults in the area do not have health insurance and there are very few medical, dental and optometric providers in the area.
Local leaders report that diabetes, obesity, hypertension and dental issues are the prevalent medical issues that need to be addressed.
IRT Arkansas Care consists of six different sites located around the Arkansas Delta region. Each site provides the local community with care while simultaneously helping the sailors, soldiers and airmen gain the training they need for their military occupational specialty.
“We really enjoy being here,” said Petty Officer 3rd Class Neal Patrick a hospital corpsman with 4th Medical Battalion, native of Dayton, Ohio. “It’s better than anything we would do back at our home unit.”
Each of the sites have been flooded with patients since the beginning of the exercise, most having patients lining up around the buildings before the sites could open their doors.
“We have had people waiting outside the building before we even arrive,” said Chief Petty Officer Christopher Leyson, a hospital corpsman with 4th Medical Battalion and staff noncommissioned officer-in-charge of the Newport, Arkansas site. “Our site has processed more than 300 patients in five days.”
The local governments have been using different methods of advertising to make this IRT successful. They have used everything from ads on television and in newspapers to using social media outlets, such as Facebook, to get the word out about this program.
“I found out about it through an ad in the paper and told many of my friends and family about it,” said Velma Jones, a resident of Newport, Arkansas. “We are very blessed to have the military members here to help us out.”
The most common care that the program provides is optometry and dental care. Many residents don’t have proper prescription glasses and there are more who need dental work.
“We have been extracting numerous patients’ teeth, most have been living day to day with serious discomfort,” said Army Staff Sgt. Christopher Nichols, a 68E dental specialist with 7218th Medical Support Unit out of Louisville, Kentucky. “It’s rewarding helping people who can’t afford to see the dentist on their own.”
Army Maj. Edward King, officer-in-charge of the site in McCrory, Arkansas, explained that the patients can pick out a pair of eye glasses and have them ready to wear within 72 hours at no charge, as well as prescribed basic medications from their pharmaceutical technicians.
“We also provide classes about general health problems like hypertension and colon health,” said King. “This is so the patient will understand how their illness effects them and we follow up with an email of their health assessment so they can better keep up with their personal health.”
The sailors, soldiers and airmen have been providing care to McCrory and five other small towns since July 24 and will finish on August 5. They hope to continue to foster a positive, professional relationship and gain the trust of local leaders and residents.
“The local communities have been really responsive to us being here,” said Leyson. “The public has been very happy and very appreciative of our presence.”