JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas –
In the midst of the hottest days of Texas summer, training at the Medical Education and Training Campus nearly came to a halt. A chiller plant that cools the medical instructional buildings, or MIFs, was not producing enough cold water to adequately cool the buildings. The issue affected five of the MIFs where the majority of Army, Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard students conduct training.
From the start, students and staff were authorized to wear their service’s physical training uniforms to help alleviate the discomfort. Soon, classes were moved to an earlier start time to take advantage of the slightly cooler mornings. Additionally, collaboration between METC leadership, academics, logistics, and facilities management resulted in the purchase of 202 fans, and 28 dehumidifiers that were dispersed throughout the entire campus. This effort was performed with precision from start to finish, ensuring all programs were in receipt of these items within two weeks of execution.
However, the ingenuity of the instructors and staff in several programs not only went beyond the initial solutions, but they quite cleverly implemented work arounds to ensure no training would be missed or cut short due to a small inconvenience like no air conditioning.
Shortly after the HVAC outage, students in the Pharmacy Technician program were scheduled to take their practical exam. “The practical skills necessary for sterile compounding are complex and newly acquired, so these skills were at risk of quickly deteriorating,” said Army Maj. Allison Sternberg, Pharmacy Technician Program Director. “As a result, we needed to find an innovative solution to allow students the ability to practice and utilize the skills within a couple of days.”
The program staff took matters into their own hands – literally – by physically moving inpatient pharmacy hoods to the loading dock area behind Heritage Hall, also referred to as MIF 2.
“The decision was made to move the sterile compounding hoods from the lab to the loading dock in order to maximize the cooler outdoor temperatures,” explained Sternberg. “The services were also asked to support early morning student arrivals to ensure the compounding practice and exams were complete prior to the temperature increase mid-day.”
Sternberg pointed out that, due to high temperatures, the students verbally simulated the donning of most of the personal protective equipment (PPE) instead of wearing it because the PPE could quickly increase their internal core body temperature. The rest of the instruction was switched to an alternate virtual training platform utilizing Microsoft Teams. Students entered as a guest and received a combination of live and pre-recorded lectures. All students were successful in logging into Teams and participating.
Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Jeremy Gonzalez, Program Director for the Cardiovascular Technician (CVT) program, said the program barely missed a beat. “All the lectures were conducted through Microsoft Teams,” he stated. However, the class was due to take a written test.
“We reached out to NMTSC (Navy Medicine Training Support Center) and found a classroom located in Fralish Hall where students could take the written test. Thankfully, we only needed to take one written test, and we did not have any other tests scheduled in that timeframe.”
Gonzalez added that the program experienced no interruption to training while the chiller was down. Once the chiller became fully operational, training resumed in the normal classroom.
Like the CVT program, the Respiratory Therapist (RT) program mitigated the impact of the environmental conditions by conducting lessons over Microsoft Teams as well. The RT program also collaborated with other METC programs in securing adequate space to conduct practical application exercises.
According to the RT staff, students enjoyed the freedom of online classroom instruction and gained valuable exposure to the Surgical Technologist program’s operating room set ups.
“Despite the harshness of the temporary conditions, we were able to successfully complete our work schedules while ensuring every instructor and student in the program remained comfortable,” program staff stated.
“In the event of future interruptions to due to inadequate conditions, the Respiratory Therapy Program is prepared to draw from previous experience and continue the mission.”