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Public Health officer deploys to Navajo Nation to assist with COVID relief

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Shannon Moorehead, 375th Air Mobility wing

SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill. -- Lieutenant Jerome Anderson, a U.S. Public Health Service officer assigned to the 375th Medical Group, recently deployed to the Navajo Nation in Arizona to assist with the fight against COVID-19.

One of eight uniformed services, the USPHS Commissioned Corps is the nation’s preeminent public health asset called upon to solve public health challenges and address emergent public health needs throughout the United States and globally.

Geographically, the Navajo Nation is the largest Native American Nation in the United States. Situated on 27,000 square miles of land spread across Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico and Utah, the Navajo Nation is home to approximately 173,000 people. Anderson was positioned in Kayenta, Arizona, the epicenter for COVID-19 in Navajo Nation, which was hit hardest by the disease.

“COVID has hit the country hard and it hit Navajo Nation even harder. It rose to such a high level that the Navajo Nation government reached out to the federal government for assistance," he explained.

Anderson and his team of 10 medical professionals were sent to assist with the mental anguish and the toll that COVID-19 has taken on the Navajo Nation people. Specifically, for the medical workers who are still fighting a war against COVID-19, while struggling emotionally and mentally with compassion fatigue, burnout and trauma.

“We had officers spread out across five hospitals and three states,” he said. “The mission was to provide behavioral health and mental health support to Navajo Nation medical workers.”

Because of his expertise as a social worker, behavioral health consultant and forensic psychotherapist, Anderson was uniquely qualified for this mission. At Scott, he operates as the flight commander for Patient Centered Behavioral Health, formerly called BHOP, a program that integrates behavioral health care into a primary care setting.

Lt. Col. Karri Roman, 375th Healthcare Operations Squadron commander, said, "Dr. Anderson has been with the medical group for five years.  His servant leadership has been instrumental during this pandemic. Not only has he provided care to military families, he’s also cared for civilians in their own communities by addressing the stress and anxiety that comes with a crisis.  In just the last nine months, he’s deployed three separate times in service to his nation. 

“Dr. Anderson’s deployment experience provides additional insight and perspective our medics may not otherwise get. As Dr. Anderson returns from deployment, he shares those insights and enhances the knowledge of other medics which better prepares them for their own future deployments. Medics provide trusted care, anywhere and they must be prepared to deliver healthcare not only in the austere environment but to various populations as well. To have a USPHS officer among our ranks is unique and an honor.”

Anderson added, “We are in a national pandemic, the worst we've ever seen in modern history. We haven't had a pandemic in over 100 years. The United States public health service officers are on call right now and have been since the pandemic started.”

Although the wide spread nature and psychological toll of the COVID-19 pandemic are unprecedented, Anderson and his fellow medical workers have lived up to the USPHS motto “In Officio Salutis”-- In the Service of Health.