KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. --
The 81st Medical Operations Squadron’s emergency room, which sees around 2,000 patients monthly, is one of the several clinics in Keesler Medical Center. However, what sets it apart from the other clinics is the high level of agility required of its staff at a moment’s notice.
Agility, according to the 2016 Air Education and Training Command Strategic Plan, is a term that describes a unit or individual’s ability to be flexible, adaptable and responsive to anything.
“I remember working in an emergency room where we were full of patients and the lights went out because the power failed,” said Maj. (Dr.) Paul Butts, 81st MDOS emergency services physician. “We were in complete darkness other than the strobe lights from the fire alarm system and we had to adapt and be flexible so the patients could receive proper care.”
According to Butts, the ability to be flexible, adaptable and responsive to any situation is more of a description of the ER than any other medical specialty that exists.
“If 50 patients walk through the door we have to see and treat all 50 of them,” said Butts. “We have to be adaptable and flexible in our approach depending on what we are dealing with and whom we are treating. We’re open 24/7 and receive patients at all hours of the night with everything from heart attacks to splinters; when a patient comes in, we only have a brief time to gather their medical history and figure out how best treat them.”
In 2010, Col. Joseph Pocreva, the previous medical director, adopted a new program to help restructure operations and increase efficiency to improve the adaptability and response time of the ER.
“Since starting the new program, our total patients have increased by about 2,000 but our average ‘door to doctor’ times have fallen from 70 minutes to under 20 minutes,” said Butts. “Our ‘door to doctor’ times are some of the best in the Defense Department. Keesler Medical Center is an incredibly successful facility and is a model for all other facilities.”
In the fast-paced atmosphere of the ER, communication is vital. Each person has a role to play so the doctor can effectively treat the patient.
“The nurses and technicians in the ER are similar to scouts and intelligence on the battlefield,” said Butts. “They interact with the patient and gather information for the doctor so they know what they’re working with in order to have a proper plan of attack for treatment.”
With the unpredictability of the patients’ ailments, the Keesler ER staff must ensure they keep a cool head and are ready for anything at a moment’s notice.
“There’s no time to show you’re nervous, you can’t let your emotions take control of you,” said Senior Airman Ionela Wegner, 81st MDOS emergency technician. “Whether the patient is puking, missing a limb, having a meltdown or being rude, you have to adapt and keep it together.”
With the added stress of a possible incident on base, this standard of consistency must remain rigid. Base exercises allow the ER staff to practice real-life skills without real-life consequences.
“Back in March, Keesler held an active shooter exercise in the hospital,” said Wegner. “We helped set up a medical control command, screened 911 calls and sent out first responders. Our response time is two minutes from the time we receive the call to the time the ambulance leaves the medical center.”
To further show off the clinic’s agility, the ER wears two hats during base exercises – they not only participate but also continue to fulfill their normal operations. According to Butts, the ER does not close down due to their primary mission to take care of people who still need care.
“I love working in the ER because it can be high energy and I’m proud of what we do here,” said Wegner. “The teamwork and patient care at Keesler goes far beyond the minimum of patient care.”
With the help of the ER’s display of agility, Keesler Medical Center is consistently ranked as one of the top clinics in the Air Force and is a hallmark for other facilities across the DOD.