Public health, it's everyone's responsibility

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Caycee Watson
  • 156th Wing/Public Affairs

Where there is an emergency event, there are public health professionals. These professionals work hard to ensure the conditions of the community are healthy and conducive to preventing the spread of infection, contamination and disease.

To ensure healthy conditions for hundreds of displaced citizens after the magnitude 6.4 earthquake on Jan. 7, 2020, Airmen from the Puerto Rico Air National Guard’s 156th Medical Group conduct weekly public health assessments at five base camps along Puerto Rico’s southern coast.

“I do a walkthrough, make sure latrines are being properly sanitized, food area is well placed and well taken care of, and to ensure military compliance and standards for cleanliness are met,” said Airman 1st Class Andrea Rivera, a public health technician with the 156th MDG.

On Jan. 30, A1C Rivera visited the base camps in Guayanilla, Peñuelas, and Ponce to assess the areas of biggest concern from a public health perspective. 

“Mainly, I inspect the area around the latrines because that’s historically the biggest source of contamination, where people touch, and I look to see if there’s enough sanitizers throughout the camp. For instance, the hand-washing stations should all have water and soap,” said Rivera.

Each week, during the public health assessment walkthrough, the conditions at the base camps are documented and the information passed up the chain of command so any deficiencies can be quickly addressed.

Each municipality, in which the base camp resides, is responsible for the latrines and supplies inside. The PRANG public health Airmen prevent the spread of germs and disease by ensuring the facilities are properly maintained and resupplied.

“It’s pretty simple, but if there is something wrong, it could have a big impact,” said Rivera.

Any discrepancies noted during the assessments are documented and highlighted to camp leadership, but Rivera stated the overall conditions and cleanliness in Guayanilla were acceptable

The Housing Department and municipalities and their supporting agencies, including Joint Task Force Puerto Rico, go to great lengths to keep the camps safe and sanitary. This includes ensuring the portable restrooms are cleaned eight times a day, the trash bins are not full, water is stored safely, hand sanitizer is available and food service areas are properly maintained and cleaned.

“A well-prepared community is a community in which the population is medically well-served, a strong public health infrastructure is in place, and community-based public health services are robust and well-integrated into everyday life,” said Maj. Alexis Juarbe, the 156th MDG medical administrative officer.

The Puerto Rico National Guard, through Joint Task Force Puerto Rico, is supporting base camps in Guayanilla, Peñuelas, Ponce, Guánica and Yauco. Each camp is capable of taking in displaced residents affected by the earthquake and its aftershocks. The purpose of the base camps is to save lives, sustain lives and protect property until the municipalities are able to provide support to those whose homes were damaged or destroyed. 

“We’re all working together to ensure the situation in which the people are living is healthy and does not negatively affect them, their families, the rest of the community and our service members,” said Rivera. “What we’re doing here is very important. We’re making sure they’re feeling as close to home as possible and most of all, feeling safe.”

Airman Rivera grew up watching her aunt and uncle serve in the military and always knew it was a lifestyle she wanted for herself. She was excited to learn about the Air National Guard located in Puerto Rico, which provided the best of both worlds. She could serve her country and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico and not have to leave home. Airman Rivera is currently a full-time student, studying biomedical sciences. She serves in the Puerto Rico Air National Guard as a public health technician. Rivera is passionate about public health and believes it is very important. She plans to finish her degree and commission as an officer in the PRANG to continue serving.