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NMCCL Stories

News | Sept. 16, 2021

Nineteen months into the fight, Naval Medical Center Camp Lejeune isn’t backing down on beating COVID

By Riley Eversull

he state of North Carolina is seeing some its highest COVID-19 case numbers since the start of the pandemic. As case counts tick higher, Naval Medical Center Camp Lejeune has experienced longer than normal wait times for those seeking COVID testing.

Since March 2020, the COVID/Acute Respiratory Clinic has been conducting COVID-19 tests for TRICARE eligible beneficiaries and Department of Defense general service employees. Active duty personnel are tested at a separate site aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune.

With the increased demand for routine COVID tests, NMCCL opened its new COVID-19 Testing Tent on September 13 to help alleviate the lengthy wait times. Beneficiaries and GS employees are able to schedule appointments for the testing tent.

“This new service is meant to reduce congestion and wait times at the ARC with daily surge totaling over 250 patients and wait times in excess of 4-5 hours,” explains U.S. Navy Commander Carol Ellsworth, director of medical services.

According to Ellsworth, this is the highest surge of patients needing COVID testing since the beginning of the pandemic. The Testing Tent will focus on routine COVID-19 tests such as return to work, pre-operative or pre-procedure, or tests needed to travel.

Moving routine testing to the tent will help create shorter wait times for those symptomatic patients who are waiting to see a provider at the ARC.

Ellsworth says, “This [testing tent] model is a safe and efficient process for patients, and simultaneously provides for enhanced workload planning for the Medical Center during this time of manpower constraints due to an increased operational tempo.”

Onslow County, North Carolina, which is home to Camp Lejeune, has recorded more than 26,300 COVID-19 cases throughout the pandemic; this total includes positive case numbers from aboard Camp Lejeune and Marine Corps Air Station New River.

Despite the recent spikes in infection rates, not one NMCCL staff member at the ARC has tested positive for the virus in the past 19 months.

“It goes to show that mitigation efforts, if followed correctly, can and do work very well…it speaks to the standards and vigilance we have been able to maintain throughout the pandemic despite being in such a fast paced, at-risk area,” explains U.S. Navy Commander Robert Kimberling, officer in charge of the ARC. “We hold each other accountable to uphold the standard. We also don’t go to work sick, and we get tested when we [are sick] which keeps the whole team fit for the fight.”

Since its establishment, the ARC has screened more than 36,324 patients for COVID-19 or other respiratory-related ailments. With each patient encounter, the ARC staff encourages the same mitigation measures from the past 19 months that have kept their team healthy and COVID-free.

“We are committed to wearing masks and social distancing while eating or drinking…if a patient does not have a mask upon arrival, we kindly ask them to put one on,” said Emilie Collins, family nurse practitioner at the ARC. “I would also recommend getting the COVID-19 vaccine. It is true someone can still get COVID-19 after getting the vaccine, but it is highly effective at preventing hospitalization and severe symptoms.”

Situated across the base, the COVID-19 Contact Tracing Team is also not slowing down their COVID battle rhythm. For more than a year, the team has been tracking down possible close contacts of confirmed COVID-positive patients.

“The mission of our Contact Tracing Team is to ensure life can continue as normally as possible given the past 19-months of the global pandemic,” says U.S. Navy Lieutenant Eric Green, assistant public health emergency officer. “We work diligently seven days a week to quickly surround the case and those exposed to prevent potential spread of the virus to others to allow them to continue to train, work, and attend school without becoming ill themselves.”

While the rise in cases may be discouraging to some, NMCCL’s health care personnel are not letting the current state keep them from staying on task. Kimberling points out that the ARC and Testing Tent teams still take great pride in their work and missions.

“We are also human and take a lot of pride in your health care,” Kimberling says. “We know the lines can be long at times, but the team here is professional, extremely hard-working, and we stay ready to be on the front lines of this pandemic just like we have from the very start.”

The new COVID Testing Tent accepts appointments 8:30 a.m. until 12:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. For TRICARE eligible beneficiaries or Department of Defense employees needing symptoms evaluated prior to testing, the COVID/ARC site is open Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. until 4 p.m. and drive-up testing only (no provider evaluations) on Saturdays and Sundays from 8:00 a.m. until 4 p.m.

For more information on how to make an appointment and details about the separate Active Duty COVID-19 Testing Site, visit NMCCL’s COVID-19 Page.
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