Silverthorne optometrist helps COVID-19 effort remotely as major in Colorado Air National Guard
DILLON — On Saturday a local optometrist who has been called into duty with the Colorado Air National Guard broke down how the state’s National Guard is helping in the fight against the novel coronavirus pandemic and where she fits into it.
Jessica Hegewald, a major in the 140th Medical Group of the state’s Air National Guard and the owner of Blue River Vision in Silverthorne, is one of between 300 and 400 guardsmen across the state who have been called in by the Colorado Army and Air National Guard to help amid the COVID-19 pandemic and shutdown.
Since the beginning of her work as an optometrist with the Colorado Guard in 2009, Hegewald has helped with a variety of situations around the world. Her service has included everything from wildfires to floods to cyber attacks as she’s gone everywhere from New York to Africa to Mongolia in order to help with the interstate National Guard effort.
In most of those situations, Hegewald has served in a capacity specific to her optometry expertise, including setting up medical hospitals in rural Morocco to help with locals’ visual health. In more daunting, larger National Guard efforts, such as the response to flooding from Hurricane Harvey in and around Houston in 2017, the National Guard has used Hegewald’s skills as an officer with expertise in organizing logistics to take the lead in things like overseeing the distribution of manpower and movement of victims and patients.
In November 2019 the Guard sent Hegewald to a medical liaison training, before the COVID-19 pandemic struck. The training taught her how to work as a go-between, allowing her to serve as a bridge between medical experts and other general guard response units. It’s something she said has proven to be a benefit to her in this sudden situation.
At the end of February the Air National Guard created a task force to look into the virus and in early March invited Hegewald to Buckley Air Force Base in Aurora for more discussion. A week-and-a-half later, the Department of Defense halted movement of department employees and military guard. That’s when Hegewald received a call asking if she was willing to volunteer.
After being called into service, Hegewald took one more trip to Buckley before starting the remote help she’s since been providing. It was a different scene than what she had been used to.
“We no longer rolled down our car window for security forces,” Hegewald said, “they scanned us in through the window. Everybody was wearing a mask on base. And the workspaces, the medical group I’m normally in, there’s 120 of us, usually the building is pretty hopping. When we went up to the building, you can’t get inside without a temperature check, and no one was in the same space at the same time.”
Working remotely from home, Hegewald works as a medical liaison helping with the logistics of hospitals and hotels, especially down in the Denver area. She is in on up to four Zoom video conferences each day. If her Blue River Vision patients have any optometry emergencies, she tries to provide telehealth services before 8 a.m., after which she turns her attention to the Air National Guard.
Her help as a medical liaison has aided the state’s efforts with COVID-19 positive or immune-compromised members of the homeless population. The guardsman she organizes are doing wellness checks in hotels for those who have been given lodging, providing food and helping hotel staff. She was originally tasked with assisting four hotels, that has since been bumped up to nine. She just hopes all her and all of the other guardsman’s service will pay off soon.
“The high point was in the beginning, in the first couple weeks of April,” Hegewald said, “trying real hard to flatten the curve. From there, it seems like things are stabilizing a little bit.”
She said her current set of National Guard orders go through next week, but could be extended.