NAVAL MEDICAL CENTER CAMP LEJEUNE, North Carolina –
Generating a medically ready force means identifying gaps in care and filling those needs; one of those gaps being the sexual health of active duty personnel.
Naval Medical Center Camp Lejeune’s Department of Public Health has made strides in the past several years to care for the sexual health of Marines and Sailors. In September, NMCCL announced it would become a satellite site for the U.S. Navy’s HIV Evaluation and Testing Units or HETUs.
The satellite site was made possible through a partnership with NMCP and the Navy Bloodborne Infection Management Center. Together, the entities have established protocols and resources to care for patients with HIV at NMCCL.
“Marines and Sailors with HIV currently receive their care at one of three HETUs: Naval Medical Center Portsmouth, Naval Medical Center San Diego or Walter Reed National Military Medical Center,” said U.S. Navy Lieutenant Commander Laura Gilbert.
Gilbert serves at the Infectious Disease physician assigned to NMCCL’s Community Health Clinic. According to Gilbert, prior to NMCCL obtaining the Infectious Diseases physician billet this year, Marines and Sailors were driving several hours to Portsmouth for multiple HIV care appointments.
“With the designation now as a HETU satellite site, these servicemembers will now be able to receive their HIV care here, which not only positively affects their quality of life, but also has far-reaching impacts on improving medical readiness and cost savings to the Navy,” Gilbert said.
A 2020 report by the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Division shows that the while the rate of HIV infections in active duty military have decreased over the past several years, a servicemember is diagnosed with HIV every five to six days.
“The active duty component of the military has always been at-risk for HIV,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class Kameron Jacobs, leading petty officer for the Community Health Clinic. “What makes HIV an outlier, compared to other sexually transmitted diseases, is that it’s a lifetime diagnosis. We are responsible for that patient for their life.”
The HETU satellite site will operate out of NMCCL’s Community Health Clinic, which focuses solely on active duty sexual health care. Jacobs explains that NMCCL’s pursuance of HETU site status seemed the appropriate next move for the public health department.
“For us in Community Health, establishing an HETU here is a very logical integration. There’s already a lot of concepts we perform in terms of laboratories, counseling, so it just makes sense,” Jacobs said.
NMCCL is not new to expanding sexual health treatment to service members. In 2019, NMCCL debuted the HIV PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) program to military. The introduction of the program was championed by then NMCCL Commanding Officer and current Medical Officer of the Marine Corps, U.S. Navy Rear Admiral James L. Hancock.
“We focus on other areas of Marines and Sailors health such as physical fitness,” Hancock said. “Preventive health in all phases of life is just as important for our Marines and Sailors to ensure the lethality of our military as a whole.”
HIV PrEP means people who do not have HIV take HIV medicine to reduce the risk of contracting should they be exposed to the virus. The establishment of the program at NMCCL paved the initial path for the HETU expansion.
Logistics of this satellite site mean the initial point of care for patients diagnosed with HIV will be maintained at NMCP. Rather than those patients having to travel back to Portsmouth for their necessary follow-up appointments, that continuity of care will now be managed by the NMCCL HETU.
“In medicine, we talk about ensuring proper ‘transitions of care so as to not have anything slip through the cracks, and lead to patient harm,” explained Gilbert. “This means that we have been communicating closely with the Portsmouth HETU team and the Navy Bloodborne Infection Management Center to ensure that we have all the proper systems and procedures in place.”
With the signed memorandum for NMCCL’s HETU satellite site in place, the task now is caring for HIV patients and looking ahead to advancement. The public health team hopes the Community Health Clinic’s HETU will become a magnet for those service members needing HIV care in the southeast United States.
“Having this program here removes barriers for these folks to live a happy, healthy life,” Jacobs said. “The overall goal of the HETUs is to ensure they receive the best possible care for managing the virus.”
Active duty looking to speak with staff about the HETU may contact LT Erica Monsees, Community Health Clinic department head, at (910) 451-6416 or visit the clinic’s website at https://camp-lejeune.tricare.mil/Health-Services/Preventive-Care/Public-Health/Community-Health-Clinic.