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Nevada Air Guard hosts Veterans Health Administration Exercise

  • Published
  • By Senior Master Sgt. Paula Macomber
  • 152nd Airlift Wing

The Nevada Air National Guard base hosted the Veterans Health Administration (VHA)’s patient transport exercise in the fire house on March 15, 2023. This exercise provided the Reno Veterans Administration (VA) Medical Center and other community stakeholders (Nevada State Health Department, Washoe County Health Department (WCHD), Veteran’s Administration Sierra Nevada Health Care System, Washoe County Office of Emergency Management, Reno-Tahoe Airport Authority, and local hospitals) the opportunity to collaboratively practice receiving patients flown to the area in response to a disaster of national significance. The NVANG Fire Department provided the facility and the 152nd Communications Flight (152CF) assisted with communications.

This exercise simulated the activation of the National Disaster Medical System (NDMS) that resulted in the receipt, triage, processing, monitoring, and subsequent transport of 35 patients to Reno area hospitals flown in on C-130s from hospitals in a simulated disaster-affected part of the United States (in this case, Memphis after an earthquake). 

During this NDMS activation, the base would serve as a receiving hub for patients from disaster-stricken hospitals that would be transported into the Reno/Northern Nevada area for continued care. The VA Medical Center (VAMC) staff are trained and practice with community partners so that collaboration of capabilities is noted prior to a large-scale incident to ensure that the patients are safely transported to the right place at the right time using the right resources. VA doctors, nurses, pharmacists, medical clerks, and logisticians would manage the patients, while REMSA and WCHD coordinate patient hospital destinations and ambulance transport, and the National Guard would provide the necessary support and resources to make it happen (Fire Station and 152CF). 

This integral training is important when the real possibility of receiving those in serious need from other parts of the country could happen during an actual disaster. Classroom orientation was provided last year to the community stakeholders as part of the preparation required for this exercise. The hands-on training and orientation to the patient reception team (VA Medical Center staff, REMSA, and Washoe County Health) at the fire station was provided by Rafael Vargas and five other VA Emergency Management Specialists.

Vargas, an 18-year Emergency Management Specialist assigned as an Area Emergency Manager (AEM) supporting the Reno VA Medical Center, directed the exercise with the assistance of several others.

“I’m privileged to be working with our local and state partners to ensure that we’re collectively ready to keep President Lincoln’s promise to care for those in need during disasters,” Vargas said. 

He is one of approximately 40 AEMs strategically placed around the country who work with local VA medical facilities and communities, daily, to assist with mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery efforts. His job is to provide subject matter expertise assistance to the VA’s regional Veterans Integrated Service Networks (VISNs) and their associated VA Medical Facilities and is deployable within CONUS to ensure the continuity of VA health care operations during disasters and other emergencies that impact or threaten to impact the delivery of health care services to Veterans. AEMs also play a key role in NDMS patient movement operations, by providing technical assistance and support to VA medical facilities designated as Federal Coordinating Centers (facilities responsible for managing patient movement to local hospitals and track patients until they return home). He is also a Registered Nurse (the only one in the AEM cadre), and retired Navy Nurse Corps lieutenant. Three other AEMs assisted (from Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Las Vegas) along with the Reno VAMC Emergency Manager, her assistant, and her VISN Emergency Manager.

“I wanted to take this opportunity to thank everyone involved for assisting the VA with its first Patient Reception Exercise in Northern Nevada since 2018,” Vargas continued, “This exercise would not have been possible without their input, guidance, resources, and expertise. My colleagues at VHA’s Office of Emergency Management and at the Reno VA Medical Center enjoyed working with everyone involved and look forward to continuing doing so with the 152nd the other Northern Nevada community partners. I must also say that the exercise players, nearly 40+ of them civilians without any military experience, left with a greater appreciation of the Air National Guard and its capabilities. Thank you all for providing that experience.”