Federal Department of Homeland Security Chief Medical Officer Pritesh Gandhi, M.D., M.P.H. along with other senior federal officials in charge of the national Operation Allies Welcome response for Afghan guests met with WHA and its members on Sept. 22 and Sept. 23. Among the topics discussed were how the federal government was prioritizing getting more resources to provide Afghan guests medical care at Fort McCoy.
In a virtual conference call organized by WHA on Sept. 22, WHA President and CEO Eric Borgerding stressed the importance of adequately equipping Fort McCoy with federal resources. He noted this new population of 12,500 guests at Fort McCoy was akin to adding a whole new city nearly the size of Tomah and Sparta combined, which each have their own hospitals and clinics to support their communities’ health care needs. “Ensuring guests have access to timely care right on the base is not only easier on the supporting health care system, but it is less disruptive to Afghan guests and their families, as well as the team supporting the mission on the base,” said Borgerding.
WHA Vice President of Federal and State Relations Jon Hoelter joined leaders from Tomah Health and Mayo Health for an in-person meeting with Dr. Gandhi the following day at Tomah Health. WHA shared a letter sent on Sept. 17 by U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin and U.S. Reps. Ron Kind, Gwen Moore, and Mark Pocan asking the federal agencies in charge to send "any and all available medical resources through the interagency to assist in providing basic and contingent medical needs on Fort McCoy to reduce the potential strain on the regional health system." Dr. Gandhi, in a meeting with local health care leaders at Tomah Health, said he agreed that more care needed to be provided on the base and that there should be transparency in what capabilities the base currently provided, and would be equipped to provide in the future.
Local health care leaders also raised concerns about coordinating care for Afghan guests once they were discharged back to Fort McCoy and needed follow-up care. While all agreed they were proud to assist this effort, they stressed the importance of ensuring the health care system does not become overburdened by supporting a new population of 12,500 guests while fulfilling its obligation to the local communities. Dr. Gandhi said the federal government is prioritizing getting guests who are pregnant or have complex medical needs resettled off Fort McCoy before other guests, so that there would be less of a strain on the surrounding health care system. He said it was his expectation that the base should meet urgent care and primary care needs, so that the surrounding health care system would not be overburdened. He noted that he was aware of the strain the extreme workforce challenges and the recent COVID surge was putting on the health care infrastructure. “If we still have 220 pregnant women at Fort McCoy by the end of January, we will have failed,” he said.
After stopping at Fort McCoy and Tomah Health, Dr. Gandhi also met with leaders at Gundersen La Crosse. He said all the reports he and his colleagues have heard of the care and coordination being provided in Wisconsin were “excellent” and that they greatly appreciated health care staff “bending over backwards” to provide essential health care services and make this mission a success.
WHA is continuing to work with the Wisconsin congressional delegation and federal agencies in improving care and coordination at Fort McCoy as Operation Allies Welcome continues.
Contact WHA Vice President of Federal and State Relations Jon Hoelter with questions.