Chairman’s Briefing: Innovative Readiness Training

August 13, 2013

Interagency Collaboration Brings Healthcare, Education, and Outreach to the Delta

As the Affordable Care Act is on its way to full implementation in 2014, many communities and individuals throughout the country still struggle to access quality health care. Many of those underserved reside in the Mississippi River Delta region, where nearly 20 percent of the population under age 65 live without health insurance and 91 percent of counties and parishes are considered Health Professional Shortage Areas (HPSAs). Yet these are Americans that need health care the most – for example, 32 percent of residents in Delta counties have diabetes, compared to the national average of 25.1 percent. Seemingly intractable problems such as these require innovative solutions – and, in a great example of intergovernmental partnership, the Delta Regional Authority (DRA) is working with the Department of Defense (DOD) to host the Innovative Readiness Training (IRT) program in the Delta

A program under DOD’s Civil-Military Programs, IRT brings military medical personnel to a community to provide free medical care to residents of the specified or surrounding communities.  The Delta Regional Authority guides communities through the application, planning, and implementation processes. During the first four years of this partnership, military reserve forces have provided general medical care, optical care, dental care, nutritional education, mental health care, and other support services to 24,000 residents at ten sites across three states in the Delta region. Many have little to no access to other health care opportunities, and some have never seen a physician. This summer, we project to reach an additional 20,000 patients in eleven communities across six states of the Delta – our most extensive outreach in the region to date.

This year, DRA has partnered with the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) within the Department of Health and Human Services to help us as we educate patients on new health insurance options that will help them access affordable coverage and on the opportunity to enroll in insurance beginning October 1, 2013. As many of these patients are uninsured or underinsured, this outreach and education is playing a role in connecting these patients to follow-up care for long after the IRT mission is complete. Additionally, we are partnering with the U.S. Small Business Administration to provide informational sessions for small businesses on how the the Affordable Care Act will impact and the opportunities it will afford our region's businesses.

With the July missions complete, we have seen impressive outcomes. In Martin, TN, the Hope of Martin medical mission – comprised of troops in the Navy Reserves, Air Force Reserves, and Air National Guard – provided free health care services to more than 3,250 residents of western Tennessee. These services are valued at more than $700,000. The Delta Medical mission – with corpsmen from the Army Reserves, Navy Reserves, and Air Force Reserves – saw 5,771 patients at five sites in the Mississippi Delta and Helena-West Helena, AR. 

We are currently in the middle of our August medical missions: the Four-State Medical mission in Blytheville, AR; Mayfield, KY; Hayti, MO; and Dyersburg, TN; and the Louisiana Medical mission in Ferriday, LA. So far through the Four-State Medical mission the Army Reserve has provided 1,175 dental exams, 680 eye exams, and 1,199 physicians consultations to residents in the Delta, bringing more than $1.1 million in economic impact and health care services to the region. 

Every patient served can mean a life changed. In Martin, TN, residents began lining up for services as early as 2 a.m. One man, so nervous to see a dentist that he was allowed to keep his dog in his lap, had tooth extractions that were years overdue. Another man was found in a hallway later in the day crying because, as he explained, with his new glasses – made on-site – “it was the first time he had been able to see the world.” Stories such as these are the reasons our military personnel will continue to provide quality care to these communities. Our local volunteers will continue to distribute crucial resources to patients. And our agencies will continue to seek out opportunities to partner and serve the people of the Delta.  For more information about the Innovative Readiness Training missions in Delta communities, visit our website.

Sincerely,

Chris Masingill
Federal Co-Chairman
Delta Regional Authority