Captain Morgan fights Corona: physical therapy amid COVID-19 pandemic

SEATTLE, Wash., – Capt. Samantha Morgan gives her colleagues refresher training on knee injuries for physical therapy treatment with herself acting as the patient at the physical therapy clinic in the Century Link Treatment Center (CLTC), a mobile treatment center, at Century Link field on April 7. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Christopher Jelle, 5th MPAD)
April 15, 2020

SEATTLE, Wash., – For most Americans during the COVID-19 pandemic the hardest part of the day is trying to teach their kids at home without going crazy— or maintaining a six-foot distance when out walking down the sidewalk, or braving the stocked shelves at the local store to find that toilet paper and sanitizer are still sadly out-of-stock.

Not for her, Army Capt. Samantha Morgan—from Turlock, California—a physical therapist assigned to 5th Battalion, 3rd Field Artillery, 17th Field Artillery Brigade who is currently attached to 47th CSH in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Since COVID-19’s invasion of Washington, Capt. Morgan’s days begin by leading a workout of the day to keep Soldiers with the 47th Combat Support Hospital out of Joint Base Lewis McChord, fit and motivated, and it continues as she cares for patients; she helps them get out of bed—the most basic of tasks that can be so difficult after an injury or illness, and it gives them independence. She shows nurses how to move patients while preventing injuries. She also treats Soldiers who are also medical and emergency experts, there at the Century Link Treatment Center (CLTC), who while helping others—have injured themselves.

“I decided to become a Physical Therapist (PT) for a few different reasons,” said Morgan. “I had done a minor in exercise and sports studies in college, through which I did some personal training and taught group fitness classes. I worked some unrelated jobs for a while, but ultimately returned to wanting to help people move better, and decided to pursue PT.”

Physical therapy is hugely important, especially now. There is a mountain of medical literature on the benefits of physical therapy for a wide range of hospitalized patients; the short version is—it speeds recovery, makes them less likely to need readmission to the hospital, and improves their quality of life in general.

“I joined the Army 100% to go to PT school,” said Morgan. “When I was preparing to apply to programs, I was looking for scholarships related to public health and stumbled across a very old Army-Baylor PT website. I was intrigued even after I found out that you had to be Active Duty military to complete the program. The more I looked into it, the more I had to admit what an incredible opportunity it would be: a paycheck, no loans, and a guaranteed job once I graduated. That’s hard to pass by! I started to really like the idea of serving Soldiers and helping them keep doing their jobs. I found out that the Army was the birthplace of PT in America, filling a need to help injured war vets. Basically, I sought out more and more information, and I never found a real downside.”

Now, nine years after her commission, Morgan typically runs the Army’s Holistic Health and Fitness (H2F) program for 5-3 FA BN. The program launched in early 2018 and has been instituted across the Army as a pilot program designed to improve physical training and increase Soldiers’ strength and wellness.

“Truly, the best part of my job is getting to help Soldiers return to the fight after an injury,” said Morgan. “It is a privilege and an honor to serve them and serve alongside them.”

Her work involves not just the Soldiers and command teams, but also several different civilian contractors hired to augment that effort. Within the H2F framework, Morgan not only conducts clinical appointments to manage Soldiers’ injuries, but she coordinates with and integrates strength and conditioning coaches, athletic trainers and a registered dietitian to ensure the program runs smoothly.

“H2F was a brand-new program and she’s helped shape and guide it, not just at the BN level, but all the way up to FORSCOM,” said Maj. Ben Roberts, 17th Field Artillery Brigade Surgeon—who has worked with Morgan for the last year and a half. “Her feedback and insight have been vital to making H2F a success for her unit and the Army as a whole. From what I’ve seen Sam has done an amazing job leading her team.”

Soldiers are more proactive with injury prevention and recovery with the availability of a physical therapist in the organization.

“I know Sam has had a big impact on several Soldiers’ lives, said Roberts. “She helps people who were struggling with the Army Combat Fitness Test, taking people who were certain they’d fail and guiding their training to the point they’re now thriving,” said Roberts.

Morgan also uses her expertise during field training events, setting up a therapy table and treating Soldiers with field related injuries as they happen.

“Several of us, including myself, relied on her expertise to fix all sorts of aches and pains,” said Roberts. “It may seem like a small thing to help somebody with a sore neck, but when it helps that person go on and perform their job better, it’s incredibly valuable.”

During the COVID-19 response Morgan has been doing more inpatient work, with a totally different population. Where before she was working with Soldier-athletes, now she’s taking care of civilians who have been hospitalized—as well as—training the staff and keeping them safe.

“It demonstrates Sam’s amazing versatility that she can go from outpatient athlete-building to inpatient therapy without missing a beat,” said Roberts.

“Captain Morgan is an incredible asset to the Battalion and Brigade, said Lt. Col Timothy Lynch, Commander of the 5-3. “Whether she is leading our H2F team or helping someone recover from an injury–she inspires our entire Battalion to do more every day.”

Morgan jumped at this opportunity to help her community and her colleagues in the medical field.

“She is a genuine public servant, whether it’s for her fellow Soldiers or for our neighbors in Seattle,” said Roberts. “I hope sharing her story not only shows her incredible value but also reminds people of all the good a committed person can do.”