By Capt. D.J. Zinder, commanding officer, Naval Hospital Camp Lejeune
Earlier this month, Naval Hospital Camp Lejeune (NHCL) rolled out the MEDEVAC Welcome Back (MWB) program. It is designed to expedite care to wounded sailors and Marines returning from the battlefield with non-acute injuries.
Coordinating with the hospital Marine liaison, we pick up patients medically evacuated (MEDEVAC’d) from theater from the airport and bring them directly to the hospital. A box meal is available for them in the van. The duty chief resident physician evaluates the patient with a standardized clinical examination to assess the clinical reason for MEDEVAC, any evidence of condition change during travel, and any other areas of health in need of care. If admission is warranted; we admit them, otherwise, after hours we put the Marine or sailor up in our barracks if they do not have family to return to in the area.
Appropriate consults are written for these returning sailors and Marines by the duty physician and the patient is given a “passport,” to take to the consulted clinic(s) the next working day. The passport gives the returning sailors and Marines head of the line privileges in the consulted clinic. We also coordinate with the medical officer from the receiving unit for continued and follow-on care, and if needed, we provide a case manager to assist in the care plan.
MWB replaces the current process where the member checks in with their unit’s non-deployed “remain behind element” medical section a day or two after arrival to receive consults and await appointments. Often the member will take convalescent leave prior to hospital specialist evaluation.
The volume of MEDEVAC’d patients coming to Camp Lejeune is four to eight per week. It varies from week-to-week, but on average is very manageable. An added benefit of MWB is the educational opportunity for the Family Practice residents to learn about the conditions that are not compatible with deployment and staying forward in a combat environment.
The MWB program has been well received by the wounded and their unit leadership, as well as the local community. Several benevolent organizations approached us when they heard about the MWB program. To name a few, the USO provides gift bags for the returnees, and the Semper Fi fund purchased an XBox for the barracks room, and last week the president of the local Chamber of Commerce called to provide additional resources for family members of the returning wounded. The new Fisher House provides temporary lodging for family members of the wounded coming in from out of town, and a local group has donated handmade quilts for the wounded.
We are excited with the response to the program. It not only is the right thing to do, but it shores up potential weaknesses in the handoff between line units and the hospital, and improves communication between all caregivers. We are always looking for ways to increase our margin of safety when caring for patients and the MEDEVAC Welcome Back program does just that. I am very proud of our strong team of medical professionals who came together to work out all the details and coordination necessary to allow us to wrap our arms around this group of deserving patients.