The Soldiers assigned to the 531st Hospital Center have trained and prepared for short-notice deployment under emergency conditions. They are now ready to apply that training as the 531st HC deploys to New York City in support of medical operations in COVID-19 affected areas this week.
The 531st HC along with the 586th Field Hospital and its subordinate detachments – 431st, 175th and 41st Medical Detachments – were given notice of deployment earlier this week.
“We are one of the most trained and ready hospital centers [in the Army],” said Col. Brandon Pretlow, commander of the 531st HC. “Back in the October 2019 timeframe, we executed a FORSCOM emergency response deployment exercise, which was a no-notice alert for the unit to pack up, get on a plane and go to California.”
On Oct.18, the 531st deployed to Sierra Army Depot, Herlong, California, to provide medical support to the 3rd Cavalry Regiment, Fort Hood, Texas, during their rotation at the National Training Center, Fort Irwin, California. The EDRE tested the 531st’s capabilities of supporting large-scale combat operations under short notice.
“It was probably some of the best Army and medical training I’ve ever experienced in my career,” Pretlow said. “It helped the unit to be prepared to react to anything. Going to New York, we aren’t sure yet what type of patients we will be treating, whether it’s COVID-19 patients or patients requiring emergency medical treatment, but we are prepared to support for anything the state of New York needs.”
The units are capable of setting up and running a fully functioning hospital. They bring with them 148 in-patient and intensive care beds, divided by intermediate care wards; five operating tables with full surgical staff and necessary equipment; an emergency room; pharmacy; laboratory; dental services and behavioral health services as well as food, fuel and laundry facilities, said Maj. Matt O’Connor, chief of nurse of the 586th Field Hospital and registered nurse anesthetist.
“Our primary focus and training is directed at trauma to take care of units that go to war, but we are fully capable of taking care of civilians in this situation,” O’Connor said. “During the EDRE, we were able to see anywhere from 60 to 100 patients a day. I think we’re equipped to process them through, and we have the overnight holding capabilities of 148 patients.”
As of now, the 531st will not be supporting one specific hospital, Pretlow said, but will travel to different centers and areas where additional support may be needed. Their involvement may change as needed.
“Right now, we have around 290 Soldiers deploying, we will have some Soldiers joining later as there are some professionals who are closing out their work in civilian hospitals,” Pretlow said. "The 531st and supporting units will ensure all Soldiers are outfitted in the correct personal protective equipment for whatever occupation they are in, and for treating and interacting with any type of patient they come across.
“We are the most trained, ready and prepared hospital center in the inventory of the United States Army for this mission,” said Maj. Aaron Griffin, 531st medical plans, operations, intelligence, security and training officer. “It will be very complex and very challenging, because we aren’t specifically trained for a COVID-19 type pandemic. However, once we get the proper protective equipment to protect our medical providers and professionals from COVID-19 itself, we can adapt our mission to specific requirement to help in New York.”
After a successful EDRE, the units are more than capable of taking on the challenge in New York City.
“Looking back, it couldn’t have been more opportune for this deployment to come along when it did,” O’Connor said. “Everything we did in the EDRE is mirror image of what we are doing now. There was very little notice to get all of personnel and equipment together and deploy in a very hasty fashion and set up our operations and be ready to receive patients quickly.”
Pretlow is confident his Soldiers will be more than capable of providing support.
“The 531st Hospital Center and its’ subordinate units are trained and ready,” Pretlow said. “We are excited about this mission. This is a unique opportunity to go and support something on this scale. I’m confident we will perform absolutely well to do whatever we need to do take care of the citizens of the state of New York.”
For the Soldiers deploying, this is an opportunity to directly serve and protect the American people they fight for every day.
“There is no greater mission than providing treatment to the American population on U.S. soil other than deploying forward to help the warfighter in a faraway land under austere conditions,” Griffin said. “In my opinion, there is no greater mission we could do to serve the nation.”