St. Joseph’s/Candler President and CEO Paul Hinchey addresses those gathered March 7 to learn about Operation Empower Health--at the Armstrong Center on the Armstrong campus of Georgia Southern University. Photograph by Jessica L. Marsala/Southern Cross.

DOD and Catholic health system team up to provide care to uninsured

Originally Appeared in : 9806-3/15/18

For one week in May, uninsured and underinsured residents in a large portion of Southeast Georgia and its surrounding areas will have the opportunity to receive free health, dental, vision and veterinary care, thanks to the St. Joseph’s/Candler (SJ/C) health system, Georgia Southern University and the Department of Defense’s Innovative Readiness Training program.


Operation Empower Health—Greater Savannah, the name given to the local adaptation of the program, hopes to provide 6,000-plus people in the region with care they might not be otherwise able to afford over the course of nine days, May 10-18. 


At a March 7 press conference, Mission Officer in Charge Lt. Colonel Andrew Magnet of the 165th Airlift Wing medical group said that Innovative Readiness Training (IRT) projects like Operation Empower Health not only provide real-world training to the military but also “build mutually beneficial civil/military partnerships in American communities while promoting national security, American prosperity and democratic strength.”


The Catholic hospital system worked with Georgia Southern University—whose Armstrong campus will be one of four local locations where care will be provided—to complete the application that granted Savannah flagship status as both the largest and most robust of the 14 medical IRT projects organized this fiscal year. SJ/C will also be among various local community partners to refer and provide follow-up care if necessary.


“This is a win-win for everyone in our community—the military gets their training and the residents of Savannah will be provided no-cost medical care,” said Paul Hinchey, president and CEO of the SJ/C health system, at the press conference, earlier noting that “no one’s going to be turned away because of economic status.”


Operation Empower Health’s 400-plus “boots on the ground” will consist of Active, Reserve and Guard soldiers, airmen, sailors and marines from across the country. They will be working alongside health students from Georgia Southern University and possibly Savannah State University, another one of the locations where services will be provided and where soldiers may be stationed while they are here.


Specific units involved include: the lead unit 165th Airlift Wing based in Savannah, the Army Reserve’s 3d Medical Command from Atlanta, the Multifunctional Medical Battalion from Savannah, the naval eyeglass fabrication unit from Virginia and the Marine Corps Forces Reserves’ 4th Dental Battalion from New Orleans, Louisiana, according to a press release.
Among those also in attendance at the press conference: Mayors Ed Bethune of Garden City and Eddie DeLoach of Savannah, whose Recreation Department and Civic Center, respectively, will also serve as treatment sites as well as sites for the military to rest and recharge.


“We do want to do all we can do to help those that are underserved in our community, and I think this is a great example of our community coming together and having the opportunity to make a difference in people’s lives,” Mayor DeLoach said.  “So anything we can do, we will do.”


Volunteers who desire to assist with the logistics of Operation Empower Health by organizing the flow of people, helping with follow-up referrals and providing meals and transportation can sign up at:


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