FORT BENNING, Ga. –
“I will stay out here until there is no longer a need,” vowed Tara Hopkins. The Medical Support Assistant works in Martin Army Community Hospital’s COVID testing tent. Hopkins volunteered for the duty last August. As an MSA, Hopkins is often the very first face patients see when they come to BMACH.
“I was not at all scared to volunteer in the pandemic tent,” said Hopkins. “I guess my mindset was that honestly I could get it (COVID) anywhere. Once I started working out here, I really loved all the nurses and providers who I was working with.”
Hopkins’ daily duties include making sure all patient documentation is filled out accurately and loaded into the system correctly. “When I first started, they didn’t have anybody dedicated just to putting in those SF600s for the patient. I began taking that away from the nurses so it was one less job that they had to do.”
Her supervisors noted before Hopkins took over the data entry, nearly 25% of patient documentation was unaccounted for, resulting in significant delays to patient care. Now, 100% of the required paperwork is tracked and easily identified.
Hopkins often pulls 11 hour days… sometimes staying later to ensure COVID screening and testing results are entered into the electronic medical record database. “Patients start coming in as soon as we open at 7 o’clock. Right after the holidays, we saw upwards of 150 people a day.”
She began working at BMACH as an MSA in Physical Therapy when she and her husband first arrived at Fort Benning in June 2015. Hopkins said when the pandemic is over, she will go back inside and work as an MSA in the Department of Primary Care.
“I love helping take care of Soldiers and their family members and retirees. I just love the opportunity to have conversations with them, share stories. Because it’s a really small world. I run into people I’ve worked with from Fort Drum and other places we’ve been stationed. It’s really nice to see somebody you know.”
Chances are when you call the BMACH appointment number, Monica Converse will be the friendly voice on the other end of the line. The Medical Support Assistant started working in the call center in 2017.
Converse is just one of 12 MSAs answering the phones, scheduling appointments and sending messages to providers on behalf of patients. Converse alone can field 50-100 calls a day. “Mondays are usually the worst, especially after a four-day weekend. We’re usually really busy.”
Formerly active duty, Converse pcs’d to Fort Benning in 1997. “I was working in the ER for two years. I was a medical specialist at the time so I was drawing blood, doing EKGs and suturing up wounds. Then they moved me out to the TMC7 (Troop Medical Clinic) where I worked sick call for basic trainees,” said Converse. “I did that for a couple of years as the assistant NCOIC of the clinic.”
Even though she retired from the military in 2004, Converse continued providing patient care at the same TMC and eventually Winder TMC as a civilian Certified Nurse Assistant (CNA). “I was in the treatment room, doing IVs, cleaning wounds, bandaging blisters, you name it,” Converse said.
“I miss the direct patient care somewhat. But I still get to do it… it’s just a different type of patient care. It’s over the phone now, instead of face to face. In a way I still get a bit of that patient care, or at least the satisfaction of helping them out.”
Converse said she gets patients of all kinds. “Some in bad moods who feel like they are not getting what they are expecting to get. It’s not their fault that they are frustrated. Sometimes they take it out on us. They are the most trying.
“And then we get plenty of patients who are happy we are here to answer their call. Especially the elderly population. They don’t have a lot to do with the internet or computers. They can’t figure them out… don’t even have computers, most of them.”
Whether the caller wants to vent or wants to chat, Converse tries her best to resolve the situation. “I apologize of course for any inconvenience they’ve had. I get them directed to the right person. I have to say the best part of being an MSA is being able to help patients. It’s nice to be able to feel like I helped somebody.”