The Officer in Charge of Navy's Maritime Operational Health Unit (MOHU), Commander Alison Thomas, projects a passion for her unit and the important capability it is building in support of Australia's amphibious operations and humanitarian assistance/disaster relief (HADR) requirements.
With the two Canberra-Class Landing Helicopter Docks (LHDs) due to enter into service by the end of 2016, the Royal Australian Navy will boast its largest afloat medical facilities in decades.
"MOHU's core job is to raise, train and sustain Navy's deployable surgical capability to support amphibious operations in general, and in preparation for the arrival of the LHDs in particular.
"We’re building on a strong platform of work previously done to support the medical capability generated by the Landing Platform Amphibious ships, HMAS Kanimbla and HMAS Manoora," said Commander Thomas.
MOHU's team consists of an executive team, medical officers, nurses and medics who can be deployed at very short notice to integrate with and enhance the organic medical capabilities of a variety of Navy platforms.
Growing and sustaining MOHU involves ensuring that the team, shadow-posted members from Navy's permanent force and Navy Health Reserves are trained at a level that supports their short notice and ongoing requirements.
"In conjunction with the Royal Australian Navy's Medical School, we are currently growing a fairly unique simulation and collective training facility at HMAS Penguin, where we hope to prepare personnel up to a 'unit readiness' level of readiness for MOHU-related activities without actually going to sea.
"Many of the Navy’s permanent medical personnel are located within garrison health facilities or in other administrative roles, and we need to be able to ensure they have the clinical currency to support their readiness to deploy," Commander Thomas said.
The MOHU team regularly deploys in support of both Navy and Joint operations and exercises; in recent times this has included Operations SLIPPER and RENDER SAFE and Exercises PACIFIC PARTNERSHIP, TALISMAN SABRE and SEA DAWN.
The core MOHU team of around 25 personnel spends much of their time ashore working with civilian medical facilities including the emergency department at Sydney's Royal North Shore Hospital, and on the road with the NSW Ambulance Service.
"Having rotations in tertiary level hospitals and with NSW ambulance services provides valuable exposure to a wide range of trauma and acute care situations.
"Generating these skills is a 'force multiplier', as the exposure is far greater than our personnel would ordinarily experience solely working in garrison health facilities.
"We work hard to maintain our civilian alliances-we could not do what we do without them," Commander Thomas said.
Commander Thomas joined the Royal Australian as a medical undergraduate, and has spent much of her time involved in aerospace medicine, working with the Fleet Air Arm at HMAS Albatross. She has also had worked extensively with the Army; experience that has proved invaluable in growing MOHU’s amphibious health capability.
Commander Thomas took the helm at MOHU about a year ago, and has worked hard with her team to build a passion for their mission, which is best summarised by the unit's motto: 'Your Fighting Chance'.
"This is the best job I've had in my Navy career.
"My team and I are in the right place at the right time.
“We get to play an important role in building an elite medical capability, and in assisting NUSHIP Canberra’s crew in setting up and testing the LHD medical capability," Commander Thomas said.
MOHU, previously known as the 'Primary Casualty Receiving Facility' or the 'Maritime Role 2 Enhanced' unit, provides medical command and control (C2), primary care, advanced resuscitation, surgical, laboratory and pharmacy capabilities, depending on the ship and task at hand.
The Canberra-Class LHDs will contain health facilities including six resuscitation beds, two operating theatres, eight high dependency beds and 20 medium/low dependency beds, and 20 overflow beds along with radiography, pharmacy, laboratory, dental and 'sickbay' facilities.
MOHU imagery taken during Exercise SEA DAWN is available on the Royal Australian Navy Image Library at http://images.navy.gov.au/S20141013.