Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall’s director of public affairs Mike Howard gives panelists final direction before the start of the base’s first virtual COVID-19 town hall held April 2. Members of the panel included (left to right) the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, The Old Guard, regimental physician Maj. Adam Sasso; The Old Guard Regimental Commander Col. James Tuite, JBM-HH Commander Col. Kimberly Peeples; Andrew Rader U.S. Army Health Clinic Commander Lt. Col. Soraya Goddard and Rader Clinic’s Occupational and Environmental Medicine medical officer Dr. Kimberly Beck. Photo by Maj. Sheena Rubin

JBM-HH hosts first virtual COVID-19 town hall

Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall held its first virtual COVID-19 town hall April 2 hosted by JBM-HH Commander Col. Kimberly Peeples. Members of the panel included the 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) Regimental Commander Col. James Tuite and Andrew Rader U.S. Army Health Clinic Commander Lt. Col. Soraya Goddard. Subject matter experts on hand to help answer questions were Rader Clinic’s Occupational and Environmental Medicine medical officer Dr. Kimberly Beck and The Old Guard’s regimental physician Maj. Adam Sasso. The moderator was Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall’s director of public affairs Mike Howard.

The event was livestreamed on Facebook from a studio in Brucker Hall, the U.S. Army Band “Pershing’s Own” building on Fort Myer, and garnered more than 20,000 views, 24 shares, 5,324 reactions and 2,249 engagements in less than 24 hours.

Each commander provided an opening statement and Peeples began by assuring the viewing audience of the joint base’s commitment to protecting the force, mission assurance and its interagency partners.

“We are at (Health Protection Condition) Charlie, which means we are at a substantial risk of community transmission,” she stated, “but we have aggressively been implementing measures since day one at risk reduction across the joint base. As a joint base, we are ready, and we are committed to flattening the curve.”

Tuite described the changes in his regiment in just the last three weeks.

“We would do upward of 40 different ceremonies or events per month,” he said. “All of those have been cancelled. Funerals have been greatly reduced to what they can be in accordance to the health protection measures.

“We understand the enemy we are now facing and it is attempting to attack us in our way of life. What we do is important in how we fight this.”

In addressing his Soldiers and their Families, Tuite said, “We all have an individual responsibility to do the appropriate health protection behaviors … and there are three things we can continue to do … to stay healthy, to stay fit and, for us as an organization, to stay ready.”

Goddard stated that the priority of the Andrew Rader Health Clinic is to protect the staff as well as military beneficiaries. To prevent the spread of the virus in the health care facilities, Goddard made the decision to pause health care at the Fort McNair clinic and consolidate manpower and care at Fort Myer’s Andrew Rader Health Clinic. And, in order for staff to continue to safely provide services and health care, Goddard and her team instituted virtual appointments when physical interaction is not necessary and moved the pharmacy to a drive thru operation.

Addressing military beneficiaries, Goddard emphasized, “We do remain open and here to serve you for acute appointments and time sensitive things that need an in-person exam or treatment by a provider.”

Goddard also announced the simple screening instituted at the clinic’s front door for those needing to enter the clinic to ensure that anyone, who may be deemed at risk or showing COVID-like symptoms, will be seen safely.

“Yes, we do have (COVID-19) testing capabilities at Rader Clinic,” stated Goddard. “If you feel you are symptomatic … call the nurse hotline to get further instructions.”

Goddard also thanked the viewing audience for their concerns over the clinic having enough personal protective equipment.

“We have enough equipment to appropriately treat our patients and protect our staff,” she said.

Questions from the town hall viewing audience included many questions about the commissary ranging from shortages of grocery items to special store hours to the possibility of the commissary closing. Peeples assured the town hall audience that it is the command’s intent to keep the commissary, as well at the exchanges, open and shared a sentiment from the commanding general of the U.S. Army Installation Management Command, Lt. Gen. Douglas Gabram, said he terms the commissary as “the Alamo — to protect at all costs.”

Peeples added the priority of the base is to keep key and essential services that the garrison offers open to include — along with the health clinic — law enforcement, fire and emergency, veterinary emergency services and ID card services on an appointment basis.

Other town hall questions ranged from what steps personnel can take to prevent the possibility of taking the virus home to questions about Soldier physical fitness testing. There were also many concerns over the Soldiers and horses at the Caisson Stables.

Some of the key messages from the panel and subject matter experts during the town hall included that while it is important to maintain a physical distance during these trying times, it is not good to maintain an emotional distance. It is important to remain “virtually social” with family, friends and co-workers and to reach out to others – especially for those who are dealing with anxiety. It is each individual’s responsibility to stay healthy.

If an individual missed the livestream, he or she may view the town hall broadcast at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall’s Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/jbmhh/videos/669945413835094. The next JBM-HH virtual town hall will be held Thursday at 12:45 p.m.

By Leah Rubalcaba

JBM-HH Community Relations Officer