The U.S. Navy in collaboration with other military forces is in the midst of a free healthcare program in Kodiak called Arctic Care, which falls under The United States Department of Defense Arctic Care Readiness Training Program, or IRT. They’re operating a number of medical services out of the former AC Value Center and there are eye doctors, dentists, veterinarians, and other doctors offering their assistance. They have also deployed doctors to the Kodiak communities.
The room is set up with check-in tables, a waiting area, and makeshift examination rooms. People line up just through the front door in order to make an appointment or drop-in.
Navy Lieutenant and IRT program manager, Brian Raymond, says the most in-demand services are eye and dental care because of their high cost if the individual is not insured or is insured under a limited plan.
Free healthcare for anyone who walks in may seem too good to be true, but the military is also benefitting. Raymond says Arctic Care is part of a required annual training, and it’s also one of many similar projects throughout the United States.
“We provide some basic services to underserved communities, and the biggest value for us on the military side is we get to train our folks in all the logistical planning that goes into this. And most of them are medical folks in the private sector, and so they do this stuff day in and day out, and they love what they do, so they’re happy to come and do this and serve a medical need.”
Lieutenant Commander Steve Wang is one such physician, and says, in his civilian life, he works at a hospital in California. He says he specializes in emergency medicine, and calls Arctic Care a worthy mission.
“For me and for many people I’ve spoken with, to be able to do training, work with other counterparts and actually provide care to the local community and to fellow Americans – that was a win-win situation. We got to benefit everyone in all different aspects, whether it be [the] military or civilian side.”
And the civilians I speak to are happy with the quality of care. Like 17-year-old Hellaya Barnett, who I catch on the way out.
“It was great. They really focus on every individual and make you feel kind of like you’re the only person in the room, and they really listen to you and you get your time. They’re not in a rush to get you out or anything.”
Thirty-year Kodiak resident, Gill Bane, is similarly impressed.
“I think it’s just marvelous. Everybody is so friendly. They treat with you with respect. They try to get you in and out as quickly as possible and they have enough experts here so they can handle almost any kind of local case that we have in Kodiak. I’ve talked to a lot of my friends – I came the first day just to see what it was, I had no idea. And it was so good I called several people and told them about it too.”
The physicians, nurses, and other Arctic Care workers are camped out in tents on the Coast Guard base, where they dine on hot meals for breakfast and dinner and MREs for lunch. MREs stand for “meals, ready to eat” and are essentially microwave meals with their own heating devices, all enclosed in a brown plastic bag. They’ll be roughing it military style at least until Wednesday, when the Arctic Care treatment ends for the year.
However, they’ll be back. The Kodiak Area Native Association and IRT will work together to provide the same services next year.