JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARBULLETIN.COM
Ohio Air National Guard Tech Sgt. Melanie Keller directed 8-year-old Gina Tau-Exzabe yesterday through a vision exam at Makaha Elementary School.
Health program has many perks
Medics with National Guard units practice their skills on students and homeless people
With one lens of her eyeglasses covered, 11-year-old Donnette Tuisano struggled with small symbols on a white sheet of paper 20 feet away in the Makaha Elementary School cafeteria.
"I think some were hard to see for me," Donnette said, noting the free vision screening was a good idea.
The exam administered yesterday by Tech Sgt. Melanie Keller of the 179th Medical Group, Ohio Air National Guard, showed Donnette might be due for another eye exam.
Donnette was among many students at Makaha Elementary School who underwent free vision screenings provided by the Hawaii Air National Guard. The Hawaii Medical Innovative Readiness Training program provides free health assessments such as vision screenings, dental exams, cardiopulmonary resuscitation training and physical exams.
The program, also set up by the state Health Department, is part of a nationwide Innovative Readiness Training program sponsored by the Office of the Secretary's Defense Reserve Affairs Division. "It's kind of like a win-win: They get the screening, we get the training," said Brig. Gen. Gary Ishikawa, deputy adjutant general of the state Department of Defense.
The Hawaii Air National Guard is the first Air National Guard unit to host the Medical Innovative Readiness Training program.
National Guard members are practicing their medical-related skills on residents to prepare for humanitarian efforts. "It's very important that they maintain those skills," Ishikawa said.
About 40 members of the Ohio Air National Guard's medical group have already began conducting health assessments on the Waianae Coast, the focus of the unit's 10-day community service exercise. The unit is assisted by the 154th Medical Group, Hawaii Air National Guard, and volunteers from the Waianae Coast Comprehensive Medical Center.
An Army Reserve unit from New Jersey is expected to arrive in early summer to provide free health-related services in the Kahuku area as part of the training program. And the Texas Air National Guard is expected to arrive in the fall to provide similar services to veterans in Kalaeloa.
The screening at Makaha Elementary revealed about 10 percent of the student body needs an eye exam, said Lt. Col. Julie Preston, of the Ohio Air Guard, who is an optometrist. A vision screening conducted at Maili Elementary School the previous day revealed about 12 percent of the student body needs an eye exam.
Members of the Ohio Air Guard will also provide free health assessments for the homeless community on the Waianae Coast.
"Unfortunately, some of the homeless folks don't know or can't afford to go to a doctor to find out what's wrong. So, these screenings hopefully will improve the health of the community by at least giving them indicators that something might be wrong," Ishikawa said.
Free physical exams will be provided to the public as part of the Hawaii Medical Innovative Readiness Training pilot program. The exams will be held tomorrow and Monday at the Waianae District Gym from 2 to 8 p.m.