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U.S. Public Health Service Supports Pacific Partnership

Navy NewsStand

Story Number: NNS080801-15
Release Date: 8/1/2008 2:27:00 PM

By Lt. Arwen Chisholm, Pacific Partnership Public Affairs

ABOARD USNS MERCY (T-AH 19), At Sea (NNS) -- The U.S. Public Health Service (USPHS) is part of the diverse crew complement aboard USNS Mercy (T-AH 19) that helped support the people of Timor-Leste July 12-25.

Mercy's crew also includes a blend of personnel from the U.S. military, partner nations and non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

The USPHS, aboard Mercy since the beginning of Pacific Partnership, is a uniformed health service of approximately 6,000 personnel under the direction of the U.S. Surgeon General. USPHS was founded in 1798 and fills essential public health leadership and service roles within the Nation's Federal Government agencies and programs.

"Our officers work in a wide variety of departments, agencies and offices including a variety of agencies within the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Homeland Security, the Justice Department, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Defense, the Department of Agriculture and several local State Health Departments, as well as others," said Capt. Kevin Prohaska a physician with USPHS.

"I am always amazed at the diversity of opportunities that a career in the USPHS offers its officers," Prohaska said.

One such opportunity is the chance to partner with the U.S. military on humanitarian and civic assistance missions, like Pacific Partnership.

"As the officer in charge of the nearly 50 USPHS officers deployed to the USNS Mercy I have had the opportunity to meet some incredibly gifted PHS officers that come from a wide variety of federal agencies and are stationed in some unique locations," said Prohaska. "Missions like this also offer a great opportunity to experience the interaction of a wide variety of professionals from all over the world working together for a common cause."

"The experience has been wonderful to collaborate with all the other services. This is a rarity for the Public Health Service to interact in more joint operations," said Lt. Holli Olson, a physician's assistant from Phoenix, Ariz. who works at the Phoenix Indian Medical Center.

Besides providing USPHS the opportunity to work side by side with U.S. military, partner nations and NGOs, Pacific Partnership has, in turn, enabled people to interact with members of USPHS.

"They are very professional, they are active participants and integrate well into the team," said U.S. Navy Capt. Peter Linz, a cardiologist and director of medical operations for Pacific Partnership. "They do what we do for the Indian Health Service; they do what we do for the Coast Guard. They have the big picture for Public Health."

"Public Health Service's primary mission is to serve the underserved populations," said Cmdr. Randall Haigh, a pharmacist from Norwich, Conn. who works at the Whiteriver Indian Hospital in Whiteriver, Ariz. "We work with such populations as Native Americans, prisons and immigrations services."

According to members of USPHS, Pacific Partnership has offered them the opportunity to learn and practice how to best work with indigenous populations.

"We work with people who live in homes without phones or electricity. There is also a language barrier with many of the older Native Americans, which requires a translator," said Haigh.

"Each nation we have visited has provided opportunities for a tremendous wealth of learning," said Prohaska.
"Clearly I have learned an awful lot about tropical infectious diseases and tuberculosis, local cultures and national public health infrastructures."

The Pacific Partnership mission has also enabled the officers of USPHS to put their humanitarian and civic assistance training to work.

"The USPHS is the primary federal entity that responds to national emergencies when a local or State health community resources are overwhelmed. In many ways this is exactly what a humanitarian mission is all about," said Prohaska. "USPHS officers are trained to respond to such emergencies as earthquakes, fires and hurricanes and to deploy in very austere environments."

Overall, the Pacific Partnership mission aboard the Mercy has been a valuable experience for the members of USPHS.

"I find all of these sorts of activities professionally satisfying I think I derive the most amount of immediate professional and personal gratification from direct patient care in setting such as the Pacific Partnership," said Prohaska.

For more information about the U.S. Public Health Service please visit

For more news from Pacific Partnership 2008, visit

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