DOVER — After a year with a historic pandemic that brought both fiscal and physical impacts, health care may have been pushed to the bottom of the list or is simply too expensive for many to afford.
The Greater Delaware Partnership for Hope Innovative Readiness Training hopes to combat that by offering free health care services from Aug. 1 through 9 at three locations around Dover.
“This is going to be a very positive event for the city of Dover,” City Councilman David Anderson said during a news conference Wednesday.
"Before COVID, there were some health challenges in Kent County and they’ve just been worsened by the pandemic.”
Free medical, dental and vision care will be offered by military medical professionals at North Dover, South Dover and Towne Point elementary schools.
“This will allow us to lower some of the backlogs that exist and hopefully ... it will connect people to ongoing services, so that we don’t have this problem in the future,” Councilman Anderson said.
The IRT program is a Department of Defense military training opportunity that provides training while improving deployment readiness. It also provides health care services at no cost to communities.
“You provide us the ability to come out and train in an environment that we would not otherwise be able to replicate ourselves,” Capt. Jason Brooks said. “Medically speaking, we’re going to see hopefully a few thousand patients here, which we would never be able to duplicate. No amount of training dummies is doing to replicate that for us.”
Capt. Brooks said there will be about 250 “soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines at the IRT events.
“We’re bringing about 30 doctors, 20 dentists and nine optometrists to Dover to better serve and facilitate the health care needs of your population,” he said.
Capt. Brooks said those who attend will be provided with “medical backbone services” like physical examinations.
“Anything you normally see your doctor for in a routine physical,” he said. They will also accept student athletes ahead of the new school year.
Surgeries, like a root canal, are not offered at these events, Capt. Brooks said. Tooth extractions or procedures to alleviate pain can be performed.
Capt. Brooks said IRT has partnered with Nostrum to provide no-cost, prescription eyewear that can be picked up 24 hours after the prescription has been determined.
Mental health services, from four behavioral health experts, will be offered.
Councilman Anderson said these services are needed in Dover where about 75% of the population earns less than $50,000 annually and about 40% of the population earns less than $25,000.
“In short, a lot of working people in Kent County are being left behind,” he said. “They work hard, play by the rules, but after rent, they can’t afford eye care or dental care insurance or service traditionally. Since COVID-19, many have fallen behind with their medical screenings, which exacerbates these problems.”
Ennio Emmanuel, volunteer coordinator, said opportunities include greeting visitors, cleaning restrooms, helping with organization and operations at the facilities. Experience in the medical field also is welcome.
“This is a great opportunity for doctors, dentists and others to use their certification to benefit the community,” he said.
Mr. Emmanuel said translators are also greatly needed. Volunteers may choose the site and times that best fit their schedules.
Training is available for volunteers and all will be screened beforehand.
Kay Sass, city public affairs and emergency management coordinator, challenged other businesses to follow the lead of Interim City Manager Matt Harline who is allowing staff to volunteer during the work day.
Donyale Hall, project coordinator for the Central Delaware Partnership of Hope IRT, thanked Delaware State University for housing the 250 troops at the former Wesley (now Downtown DSU) campus while they are in Kent County. She said Dr. Tony Allen, president of DSU, stepped in to meet the troops’ housing needs when the initial housing option fell through.
Councilman Anderson managed the application to bring the IRT program to Dover. He thanked partners Hope Clinic, Westside Community Clinic, Bayhealth and St. Francis. He also thanked Herb and Karen Konowicz, Councilman Fred Neil, Mayor Robin Christiansen and state Sen. Trey Paradee as well as Ms. Sass for their help.
“It’s going to be a very positive event that is going to help many communities in our city and in surrounding areas,” Councilman Anderson said.
The concept of IRT started when former President Bill Clinton was on the campaign trail in 1992. He challenged Americans, with his “Rebuild America” initiative, to find innovative programs that would serve American communities and provide “realistic military training benefits.”
Today, the IRT program offers opportunities for active, guard and reserve service members to offer care to Americans.