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Medicine on the move

Mobile operating room eases strain on WACH

POSTED: March 23, 2014 11:00 p.m.
Photo by Randy C. Murray/

Winn Army Community Hospital mobile operating room staff clean the unit and medical equipment ahead of the facility’s opening.

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Thanks to a collaborative effort by medical officials at Fort Stewart and Fort Benning, a backlog of minor surgeries at Winn Army Community Hospital now is being addressed, Winn ACH Public Affairs Officer Michelle Gordon said.
Gordon explained that construction and renovation taking place throughout the hospital has limited operating-room space, and this has created a backlog of outpatient surgical cases. The solution Winn and Stewart-Hunter MEDDAC Commander Col. Kirk W. Eggleston decided on is a mobile operating room, formerly called mobile Army surgical hospitals or MASH units. Gordon said the mobile operating room began operation March 10.
“This is a collaborative effort by Winn and the 14th Combat Support Hospital at Benning,” said Lt. Col. Joe Lim, chief of logistics at Winn ACH. “Both Winn and the 14th CSH benefit from this collaboration.”
Lim said Winn had limited operating-room space due to the construction. He also knew that the 14th CSH is scheduled to conduct a major emergency-training exercise in June. That exercise would test the mobile hospital staff's ability to treat injured civilians in a major natural disaster, like a hurricane, he said.
“What I came up with is for us to use the combat hospital here at Winn,” Lim said. “I decided if a mobile operating room was good enough to save our soldiers’ lives downrange, it was good enough to use here. … It’ll be a great training opportunity for the 14th CSH. Plus, it will provide OR support here at Fort Stewart.”
Recently, Lim and Sgt. 1st Class Johnny Estep, 14th CSH, took time to talk with media members and show them around the mobile operating room. The outside appearance of the unit looks like MASH units from the Korean or Vietnam wars, but today’s mobile hospitals are much more sophisticated, Estep said. The mobile operating room is set up with two large tents linked by a smaller tent that serves as a hallway from the pre- and post-operating rooms and the actual operating room. Power generators provide not only lighting, but also air-conditioning and an air-purification system.
Reporters taking part in the event were required to wear white overalls, footwear and head covers. The floor was padded, and the walls were lined with insulation. The hum of the generators outside roared above the voices of medical personnel talking to reporters.
Lim said the mobile operating room will remain up through May. He expects as many as 100 active-duty soldiers to be treated in the mobile unit during the next three months. Family members and military retirees will not be treated in the mobile unit, he said.
Gordon said although only active-duty military will be treated in the mobile operating room, family members and retirees still benefit because this frees up OR space for them. She said the mobile operating room staff will run the mobile unit, but Winn’s doctors will conduct the surgeries.
She said Winn also formed a partnership with Liberty Regional Medical Center in January to use their operating rooms twice a week. Winn’s physicians also conduct the surgeries at LRMC, she said, emphasizing that Liberty Regional is providing only the operating-room space.

 

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