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San Antonio health system among best in wounded warrior, trauma care

by Desiree N. Palacios
Air Force News Service

7/19/2012 - Joint Base San Antonio--Lackland (AFNS) -- During the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure commission hearings, it was suggested that the military should consolidate all health facilities in San Antonio to create the San Antonio Military Health system.

The SAMHS was established after both the Air Force and Army chiefs of staff signed a memorandum of agreement in September 2010.

Maj. Gen. Byron C. Hepburn, SAMHS director, and Army Col. Mary Garr, Fort Sam Houston garrison commander, explained that the goal of the system is to increase efficiencies and effectiveness, while providing a cutting edge, and state-of-the art medical activity within the San Antonio Military Health system.

"Being mindful of our readiness requirements, our education requirements and also our research requirements for the nation, we are doing all of that in a very synergistic coordinated manner here in San Antonio," said Hepburn, the first director of SAMHS and the 59th Medical Wing commander.

The 59th Medical Wing, at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, is the largest medical wing in the Air Force. The Wilford Hall Ambulatory Surgical Center is a new facility currently under construction and when finished will be the largest ambulatory surgical center within the department of defense.

"One of the key things that we are doing here is research for enroute care for air evacuation for part of our Air Force and joint mission in the medical arena," said Hepburn.

"We take great pride in what we are doing with our critical transport teams, where we're taking it to the next level." He said the center has installed partial heart lung bypass machines that can keep wounded warriors with lung injuries alive, with the ability to move them intercontinental distances. "We are also looking at how we are going to move an infectious patient safely across intercontinental distances, so we'll see a lot of really cutting edge, state of the art medical activity happening in San Antonio."

According to Hepburn, SAMHS has the distinction of being the only level one trauma center in the military. "We are caring for very high acuity patients, so our doctors, nurses and technicians are learning how to care for these trauma patients. Those skills will serve them well if they have to go forward in combat or serve the nation for a natural disaster here in the United States."

Hepburn also explained that SAMHS has a unique partnership with the Veteran's Administration.

"Secretary Shinseki, from the Veteran Affairs, has asked us to be a pilot site for an integrated electronic health record," said Hepburn. "It'll really lend to an increased synergy of seamless transfer of care between our active duty force and those that go on to get their care in the veterans administration system."

In addition to developing a reputation as a state-of-the-art health center and top level trauma hospital, SAMHS offers many facilities for wounded warriors injured in combat. The maxillofacial prosthetic department, laser treatment for wounded warriors, the Center for the Intrepid, and the contingency aeromedical staging facility are just a few areas dedicated to providing top-notch care.

"We saw tremendous change in the training, education and research areas in health care here in San Antonio," said Army Col. Mary Garr, the chief operating officer of SAMHS. "All of the enlisted medical training across the Department of Defense has now consolidated through BRAC here in San Antonio.

"In addition to the research area, we opened the battlefield health and trauma center on Fort Sam (Houston), which consolidated some of our important research and development. The tri-service research lab, which was headquartered on Brooke City Base, stayed here in San Antonio as well and is able to continue to provide much needed research in areas that support healthcare."

Hepburn added that this transformation in San Antonio has been a win-win, for not only the Air Force and the Army, but most importantly is a win-win for its patients.

"We have an A+ system and it's only going to get stronger and better in the years ahead," said Hepburn. "Through collaboration and teamwork we have a clear focus on our patients and patients' safety and high quality outcomes. We are shifting from healthcare to health here in San Antonio in a very positive and proactive manner."

Hepburn believes that it is an honor to serve in one of the military's premier health institutions and is excited about the future of military health care in San Antonio. "The new San Antonio Military Medical Center and the new Wilford Hall Ambulatory Surgical Center, which will be finished in 2015, are beautiful facilities but more importantly it's the men and women, officers, enlisted and civilians who really give it the A+ rating that it so well deserves."

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