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NEWS | July 13, 2016

USPHS officer exemplifies spirit of service, valor

By Capt Elizabeth Maley Naval Health Clinic Charleston

On Saturday, July 16, we celebrate the 218th birthday of the Marine Hospital Fund, which became the Marine Hospital Service, and in 1889, the Commissioned Corps of the U.S. Public Health Service. For more than two centuries, men and women of the USPHS have spearheaded efforts to protect our nation's public health and to deliver health care to underserved and vulnerable populations around the globe.

Here at Naval Health Clinic Charleston, we are fortunate to have on our staff, a member of the USPHS whose life is a beacon that reflects the Corps' core values of leadership, service, integrity, and excellence, through her life-long service to the military and medicine.

Promoted to Captain in January, Capt Robin Lewis has topped off a great 17-year career that began as a Navy officer, and continues, now, as an officer of the USPHS. As a psychologist, Lewis does heroic things every day, but during the last two years she has displayed extraordinary valor.

As recently as September 2015, Lewis helped save the life of a Sailor who collapsed while conducting a command physical training run. Lewis, who was on her daily routine run, quickly assessed the situation and took charge. The Sailor was unresponsive, showed no vital signs, was not breathing, and had no pulse; he was in dire need of medical assistance.  Lewis performed cardio pulmonary resuscitation, keeping the Sailor alive until Emergency Medical Services could render aid and ultimately save the Sailor's life.

Staring in the face of danger is nothing new to Lewis. In 2014, at the height of the Ebola Virus Disease outbreak in western Africa, Lewis heroically answered our nation's call to duty by deploying to Africa and providing vital support to agencies combatting the spread of the 21st century's greatest plague. Deploying with the USPHS in support of the International Ebola Response Mission, Lewis selflessly left her young family and the comforts of home to serve those in need and help ensure that this disease did not put the lives of U.S. citizens at risk.

Lewis was assigned to a team of medical specialists providing care for healthcare workers from International Non-Governmental Organizations as they treated infected patients in Liberia and Sierra Leone. During her deployment, Lewis identified critical psychological risks to the medical staff that could occur during donning (initial dressing) and doffing (taking off) personal protective equipment (PPE) gear. To mitigate these risks, she developed protocols to integrate the behavioral health staff in the "doffing" process, allowing them to more effectively attend to patients in suspected and confirmed Ebola areas or "hot zones."

Her protocols called for health workers to talk with a mental provider about their experience in the hot zone and assess for fatigue and heat exhaustion. Assessments from the mental health provider were used in determining the staff's fitness for duty in future rotations inside a "hot zone."

When she returned to Naval Health Clinic Charleston, she subsequently trained NHCC staff members on the process of downing and doffing PPE gear and how to respond safely and effectively, in the case of such an emergency.

For her intrepidness, she received the 2015 Heroism/Valor Award from the Federal Executive Association of the Greater Charleston Area.

Throughout her career, Lewis's assignments have taken her around the world, to include Guam and Italy; to various countries in South America, while deployed aboard USS Iwo Jima as part of Operation Continuing Promise 2010; to Naples, Italy in support of NATO in 2011; and to Louisiana for Hurricane Isaac Relief in 2012.

In her promotion speech, Lewis said her deployments taught her the value of authenticity and how to cry with those she was helping, with one eye, while keeping the other eye focused on hope, healing and wholeness.

I say, with gratitude, that Lewis exemplifies the spirit of service, and that she is a model for all of us to listen more effectively to our patients, our co-workers, and fellow man, and to always provide the highest quality and most compassionate care that everyone deserves.