Chenango Calls in the Reserves for Community Health
When the Army, Navy and Air National Guard took over part of Norwich in July 2016, they came not to deal with a military threat, but to render another kind of service—free medical care for people in need.
Their visit marked the second year of Greater Chenango Cares, a collaboration between the community and the U.S. Department of Defense’s Innovative Readiness Training (IRT) program.
Under IRT, military reservists who are medical professionals spend ten days in a community practicing how to set up and operate medical services in the field, as they might in a military operation or domestic emergency. They offer free care—checkups, physical therapy, dental services, optometry visits with glasses at no cost and even veterinary services—to anyone who needs it.
There’s no doubt that the need is great, says Elizabeth Monaco, executive director of the Chenango United Way, which coordinated Greater Chenango Cares in 2016. Although the Affordable Care Act has brought health insurance to many more people, basic health insurance addresses only some of local residents’ needs.
Many people who came to the event were underinsured, Monaco says. “They had a primary care provider and were having their basic medical needs taken care of but couldn’t see an eye doctor or a dentist. Or their deductibles or co-payments were so high, they couldn’t afford care.”
In 2016, more than 180 reservists—including support personnel such as maintenance and nutrition specialists—set up in and around the Norwich Middle and High Schools, providing a total of 10,311 individual services to 1,850 patients. “A lot of people did the whole ‘maze,’” Monaco says. “They got their eyes checked, got free glasses, had their teeth cleaned, maybe had a cavity filled or a tooth extracted, got a physical and then maybe also got their dog spayed or neutered.”
A substantial number of participants were diagnosed for chronic conditions such as hypertension or diabetes. “We provided referrals for those folks back to their doctors or into community resources,” Monaco says. Community leaders are now convening conversations about how to provide ongoing medical help for people with unmet needs, she says.
Strong community support, including donations and the work of more than 400 volunteers, made Greater Chenango Cares 2016 so efficient, United Way spent only $5,400 of the $10,000 grant the Community Foundation provided for the program. United Way returned the rest to the Foundation to support other initiatives.
“It’s amazing how our community rallied around this event,” Monaco says. “On the organizational side, on the individual side, people really wanted to be a part of this.”