DOVER — Not only has the COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc on employment, it has also pushed back access to medical services, as many have had to sacrifice health care to pay rent or buy groceries.
That’s why the weeklong Central Delaware Partnership for Hope’s Innovative Readiness Training mission is such an extraordinary opportunity for Dover-area residents.
The mission’s medical-training event provides no-cost medical, dental, optometric, mental health and nutrition services to the public, while simultaneously instructing service members for deployed environments.
The walk-in event is taking place at North Dover Elementary, Towne Point Elementary and South Dover Elementary schools through Aug. 9 from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m. each day. No proof of insurance or identification is needed, but masks are required.
Samuel P. Gilles of Clayton was a patient at North Dover on Monday morning. Even though he has to return to receive additional care, he was thankful for the opportunity to see a doctor.
“I think it’s kind of superb for people to be here from around the country,” Mr. Gilles said. “The way they do this is just super because … it is a lot of money just to see a doctor … and then waiting too much time just to get an appointment with a doctor. That’s a package when you come here.
“Sometimes, there’s somebody who doesn’t have a paper (or benefits) just to get an appointment, just to see a doctor, and they can participate in this opportunity here. It’s really nice.”
Capt. Nicholas Mollica, the officer in charge at North Dover, said the event has been well-organized, and the individuals they’ve treated over the first two days have been very appreciative.
“Myself and the other officer in charges are communicating throughout the day,” said Capt. Mollica. “We have Towne Point, South Dover and North, as well, and we’ve been seeing a great flow. We had a line out the door (Monday) morning before we were even open. It was wonderful.
“It’s been incredible. We’ve had a lot of people stop us in the halls as they’re going from service to service and saying how appreciative they are. A lot of people feel forgotten (in Dover), and something like this lets them know that they’re not. This is a huge asset.”
Nearly 250 service members from multiple states deployed to Dover on Thursday to provide critical health care to the medically underserved in the area.
The Delaware National Guard-led joint-training event is sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs and brings together Army, Marine, Navy and Air Force Guard and Reserve units from throughout the country.
The Delaware National Guard has participated in the IRT program three times the last four years, but this is the first time it is hosting the training.
“We are going to have a huge impact on the community through medical, dental and optometry care,” said Capt. Daniel Collins, the IRT’s operations officer in charge from the Delaware Army National Guard’s 31st Civil Support Team.
Col. Richard Marcinko, medical detachment commander for DANG, said that being able to host an event of this scale is a godsend to underserved communities. He expects all three sites will get even busier as word spreads.
After all, with 25% of Dover’s population of about 38,000 below the poverty line, the mission provides direct and lasting benefits to residents.
“We’re getting a lot of people in need of care, especially dental, optometry services and also medical,” Col. Marcinko said Monday. “This is our second full day of actual open clinic, so we’re hoping the word’s getting out, as more and more patients are coming through and getting the services they need.
“It’s fantastic. In certain areas, … people don’t have the services they need, especially in the times of COVID, where they haven’t been able to see the dentist and there’s a lot of backlog, in terms of dental needs and treating these medical needs, so they’re very thankful that we’re here to provide the service. I think it’s been fantastic, to be honest with you.”
The medical mission also has acquired the services of NOSTRA (Naval Ophthalmic Support and Training Activity), which will take prescriptions and, within 24 hours, create two new sets of eyewear for the individuals requiring it.
“With the five or six bodies NOSTRA is going to send us, and with the assets and the supply line that we’ll have in place, we’ll probably produce up to 1,000 pairs of brand-new, cost-free glasses for the citizens of Dover,” Capt. Jason Brooks said. “It’s an outstanding asset to have assigned to our mission, and we’re happy to have them on-board.”
How a visit to the IRT works
Individuals showing up for health care at Dover’s IRT event first have to fill out a COVID-19 questionnaire and be screened.
They then go to the check-in area, where they inform the workers which services they are interested in.
The patients are then processed to go to either medical, dental or optometry services, where they receive their treatment and get their prescriptions before they check out.
“We try to make the flow as simple as possible because this is a complicated process,” Capt. Mollica said. “Realistically, North Dover gave us this amazing site. With what they’ve given us, we’re trying to make it work and create the best environment with what we’re given.”
Tech. Sgt. April Atkins, who normally works out of the Pennsylvania Air National Guard’s 193rd Special Operations Wing in Middletown, Pennsylvania, returned to her roots for this week’s initiative. She is from the Greenwood-Milford area.
“This is our IRT mission here, and we are providing no-cost health care to the community and all the surrounding communities and states that would like to come down,” she said.
“It’s a win-win situation. This is my backyard, so it’s really wonderful seeing the people out here, seeing their faces.
“They’re so happy to have it, and we are happy to have them. Just to talk to people and get to know their back stories and where they come from — it really means a lot.”
Col. Marcinko said organizers try to make the IRT mission run like a well-oiled machine, though they occasionally have their challenges.
“In our training, this is mainly guided towards the junior enlisted and the junior officers, so they’re running the missions basically, and together, we’re all providing the medical, dental, optometry services,” he said, “so it’s really working out well.”
Lt. Col. Susan Holt, an optometrist at North Dover’s IRT location, expects business will be picking up, as more and more people find out about the no-cost health care event. She said this is the fourth IRT project she has participated in.
At the North Dover site, from 11 a.m. Sunday until 11 a.m. Monday, 66 individuals were seen for medical reasons, 54 for dental procedures and 12 for optometry visits.
“We’ve had a good amount of interest, but I think other people are going to be telling people to come here because I think they’ve had a good experience,” Lt. Col. Holt said. “Many seem surprised that they can, within a couple of days, get a pair of glasses.
“They’re just thinking they can get a prescription, but we’re like, ‘No, no, no, we have glasses for you.’ I love doing this. All the patients we’ve had from Dover have been wonderful, very appreciative, and it’s been a joy.”
Kay Sass, public affairs and emergency management coordinator for the city of Dover, said volunteers are still being sought to lend a hand this week.
“This is an incredible honor to have been selected to hold the Innovative Readiness Training here in Dover and greatly benefits our community,” she said. “In order for this to be a success, we need to have volunteers to help (with) greeting and to check people in, direct people where to go, parking etc.
Those interested in helping out can visit here or email email@example.com. Volunteer opportunities are available each day for any length of time.
How it all came to be
The Central Delaware Housing Collaborative, a nonprofit that formed from the mayor’s task force to end homelessness, applied for the IRT mission Sept. 30, 2019, and it was approved that November.
City Councilman David Anderson managed the application to bring the IRT program to Dover.
He said these medical services are needed in the city, 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.
“It’s going to be a very positive event that is going to help many communities in our city and in surrounding areas.”
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 communities and provide “realistic military training benefits.”
Dover City Councilman Fred Neil said it’s hard to put into perspective how important the IRT mission is to the capital city.
“This is an extraordinary thing,” he said. “It’s almost like hosting the World Series, and we’re hosting it (in Dover).”