US soldiers helping UNM Health Systems
By Rebecca Roybal Jones

Mission Forward

Military Medical Team Helps UNM Hospital Providers Amid Surge in COVID Cases

Medical military personnel who have been deployed to The University of New Mexico Hospital to relieve exhausted health care workers will officially begin caring for patients today. 

A Department of Defense (DOD) Duty Medical Support Team arrived in Albuquerque last week and is assisting UNMH providers due to the COVID-19 surge and high hospitalization rates.

UNM Hospital is one of six health care systems in the United States receiving medical personnel support from the military, and has been operating under Crisis Standards of Care since November. The hospital is currently operating at about 150% of its licensed capacity.

Navy Cmdr. Judy Hanhila, a critical care clinical nurse specialist, says medical professionals, including pulmonary, critical care, family medicine, internal medicine providers, respiratory therapists and others, are here for 30 days, and longer if needed.

“It’s a unique mission. We’re normally serving other countries but now we’re serving our own,” Hanhila says. “Taking care of our own people, taking care of our own family, giving back to our own country. That’s what we all signed up for. It’s giving us a sense of purpose.

“That gratitude when people say, ‘Thank you,’ we feel it in our soul that we are needed – and we are here to help.”

The military medical personnel will be working in the UNMH Emergency Department and intensive care units, she says.

“We were deployed in Afghanistan in the Middle East, so we see trauma,” Hanhila says. “We take care of trauma patients.”

They also have experience in caring for patients diagnosed with COVID-19, as many of them just completed a deployment at San Juan Regional Medical Center in Farmington.

“With COVID-19, we are at war with invisible enemies,” Hanhila says. “It’s very infectious. We can see globally how many lives have been taken . . . this is an invisible infectious enemy.”

She says she finds working with the UNMH team very rewarding, especially the “camaraderie that comes with working with nurses and the community. They’re so grateful that we’re here helping the community.”

Hanhila, who is from Anaheim, Calif., is stationed in San Diego and had only been back a week when she was called to assist at UNMH.

She says she’s honored to be someone families can trust to care for their loved ones when they’re hospitalized.

“I’m there for them in their time of crisis,” she says.

In her 27 years of serving in the Navy, she says she never expected to see the country bear such hardship.

“I guess that’s why it’s really sad,” she says. “We don’t want sisters, brothers, our family suffering. We want to be the solution to end this COVID-19.”

Categories: Community Engagement, Health, News You Can Use, Top Stories, UNM Hospital