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To the Rescue

Rescue Wing Airman Volunteers for COVID-19 Response

Joey, center, talks with a handful of his teammates inside Riverview Terrance field hospital in March. The field hospital operated for five weeks and as a result of their efforts, 60 patients received the care they desperately required. (courtesy photo)

Rescue Wing Airman Volunteers for COVID-19 Response

Joey, pictured on the far right of the back row, poses for a photo with a group of his teammates inside Riverview Terrance field hospital in March. The field hospital operated for five weeks and as a result of their efforts, 60 patients received the care they desperately required. (courtesy photo)

NEW YORK, N.Y. --

A hospital within a hospital, a first of its kind, was the response needed to combat a new strain of coronavirus that has not been previously identified in humans and was rapidly affecting New York, the country and world.

This strain of coronavirus, known as COVID-19, is proving to be as devastating as the 1918 Spanish Flu claiming the lives of over 570 thousand people worldwide since the first known case was reported in Wuhan, China, in November 2019. The virus has since affected more than three million people in the U.S. and over 12 million worldwide according to data gathered by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), World Health Organization (WHO) and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.

In March, the WHO declared the COVID-19 outbreak as a pandemic.

On April 3, Joseph “Joey”, a paramedic and 308th Rescue Squadron reserve Pararescueman (PJ), was contacted by Dr. Melissa Givens, Medical Director of the Ryan F. Larkin Field Hospital, and Dr. Steven Rush, a retired 103rd Rescue Squadron Flight Physician. Dr. Givens, also a retired Army doctor, along with Dr. Rush, understood the value in bringing aboard special operator force (SOF) medics. They asked Joey if he would be willing to help alleviate the growing pressure on New York hospitals to meet the increasing demand to treat a rapidly growing number of patients experiencing COVID-19 symptoms.  

New York was one of the most heavily impacted states with rapidly rising numbers of positive COVID-19 cases reported between March and April. The state had just over one thousand positive cases of COVID-19 in mid-March but that number sky rocketed to over 240 thousand positive cases by mid-April, according to the CDC and WHO. This outbreak began to quickly overwhelm the states entire medical system.

Joey didn’t hesitate to agree to the call for help and immediately arranged for a flight to New York.

“I was ecstatic to have been called by Dr. Givens and Dr. Rush, Joey said. “I wanted to be a part of the solution and to help people. Helping people is my passion.”

As a traditional reservist, Joey was able to accept the request from the New York doctors in their time of need. Agreeing to use his knowledge, experience and pararescue expertise, Joey flew to NY - putting his life in harm’s way against an invisible adversary; COVID-19. 

Upon arrival, Joey and a handful of medics were requested by the Medical Director of the New York Presbyterian Milstein Center, Dr. Laureen Hill, to create a side unit within the wing of the hospital known as Riverview Terrace. This new unit was to act as a “relief valve” to the main field hospital in the city.

“Riverview Terrace was a conference and banquet space that was converted into a 47-bed ward to support Milstein Hospital,” Joey said. “We were fully capable of providing full-spectrum patient care to those experiencing symptoms as well as those diagnosed with COVID-19.”

Unfortunately, the overwhelmed and understaffed hospitals in the area were unable to provide the personnel required to support this unit inside Riverview Terrace. That’s when Joey stepped in and was asked to recruit and form provider teams while identifying and meeting the logistical needs to accommodate incoming patients.

Luckily, he had amassed an extensive network of fully qualified individuals to fit that need which he’d gathered over the course of his military career. He handpicked Air Force Reserve and National Guard PJ’s, Army medics, SEAL’s, and civilian professionals to perform their duties as medical providers in this uniquely improvised field hospital. This newly integrated team flew to NYC, immediately established the field hospital and began receiving their first patients within 96-hours of notification. Although this team of 55 professionals had never all met or interacted with each other, they worked with ease and understanding.

Other members from the 308th RQS also answered the call to help to including; Josh, Chaney, Louis, Tyler and Gavin.

Under the directive of the local New York Presbyterian Hospital doctors, this joint force team was able to perform at an elevated scope. They provided a rapid response force with dynamic medial capabilities able to adapt to their environment and the needs of the field hospital as well as other medical professionals.

Riverview Terrace field hospital operated for five weeks and as a result of their efforts, 60 patients received the care they desperately required.

“When the surge dissipated, the hospitals were less burdened,” Joey said. “But our team remained in place and interspersed themselves into other areas of the hospital to continue to provide medical care for another four weeks, wherever they were needed.”

Joey explained how grateful he feels to have been given the opportunity to bring together a team of operators and civilians to help accomplish such a monumental task

“We integrated well with the hospital system,” he said. “I’m thankful for the positive results and helping the cause.”

Joey has been a PJ for six years, during which time he has completed two combat deployments. His first four years he served in the active duty Air Force but he now calls the 308the RQS home, serving in a traditional reserve capacity.

The 308th RQS is a unit within the 920th Rescue Wing and consists of Combat Rescue Officers (CRO), Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) and Pararescuemen (PJ) which is also known as Guardian Angels. While many candidates enter the 920th from the active duty Air Force, others are accessed directly into the Air Force Reserve. All candidates must pass a physical assessment test which has about 15% success rate.

An Air Force PJ is a special warfare operator, trained to recovery and medically treat personnel in combat and humanitarian environments, at any time, all over the world. They are considered the “Jack of all trades.” On top of being nationally registered Paramedics, their extensive training includes tactical scuba diving, static and freefall skydiving, high angle mountain rescue, austere survival skills and cold weather training.

The mission of the 308th is to train and maintain the Air Forces only dedicated rescue capability for Department of Defense personnel, in support of Combatant Commander’s wartime objectives as well as peacetime humanitarian and disaster relief activities. They can provide this capability under the harshest of circumstances to include, day/night, inclement weather and all terrain rescue conditions.

Based at Patrick Air Force Base, Fla., the 920th RQW is the only Air Force Reserve Command personnel recovery wing. The wing trains and equips over 2,000 Airmen who carry out its mission, to search for, locate and recover U.S. Armed Forces personnel during military operations.

                                                                                                  “These Things We Do, That Others May Live”

Editors Note: The Ryan F. Larkin Field Hospital is named for decorated Navy SEAL Ryan F. Larkin (1987-2017) who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.