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Top Military Health Care officials visit Naval Hospital Bremerton

Place and colleagues learn about Bremerton U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Ronald J. Place, Defense Health Agency (DHA) director receives insight on Naval Hospital Bremerton's (NHB) COVID-19 Asymptomatic Testing (CAT) Clinic from Lt. Cmdr. Mia Jin, CAT Clinic coordinator and Public Health Emergency Officer. (Official Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Meagan Christoph, NHB/NMRTC Bremerton public affairs).

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The Honorable Thomas McCaffery, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs and U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Ronald J. Place, Defense Health Agency (DHA) director were hosted by Naval Hospital Bremerton July 16, 2020.

Both top ranking military health officials were able to first-hand observe the commitment by Navy Medicine in helping stop the spread of COVID-19, protect the health of warfighters – past and present – and their families, and provide a ready medical force ensuring operational readiness with a medically ready force in the third largest fleet concentration area.

“We’re here to hear your questions, concerns and comments on our military health system. Before COVID-19, we were in the biggest change of our health system in 30 years. Due to COVID, we put on that on pause,” shared McCaffery to NHB leadership, noting that trying to affect change on existing military health systems – actually four separate – is not a new proposal.

“There’s been at least 12 times since World War II to change our system. All focused on the best way to organize and manage for the mission, have a ready medical force and a medically ready force. The mission is still the same and having a more integrated system is the way to do it,” stated McCaffery.

Place pointedly added what’s most important to military health is not headquarters, but where that military health is delivered.

“What we learn from visiting military treatment facilities helps give a sense of where the focus needs to be. How do we continue to improve our systems, in the clinic, suite and ward. That’s what’s important. Optimization is our goal. From your position here at the deck-plates, if it doesn’t make sense, we need to know,” stressed Place.

McCaffery gives military coin to soldier
Kudos from the top... the Honorable Thomas McCaffery, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs presents a personal coin to Hospitalman Katherine Evans, assigned to Naval Hospital Bremerton's OB/GYN clinic for her sustained efforts in supporting patients during the ongoing pandemic outbreak. (Official Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Meagan Christoph, NHB/NMRTC Bremerton public affairs).

The visit itinerary included several of the ‘new normal’ efforts implemented at NHB, such as the COVID-19 expanded drive-through screening, triage and testing started in early April, based on Centers for Disease Control and Prevention criteria, that everyone – staff, patient, visitor- arriving on base goes through. They viewed the COVID-19 Asymptomatic Testing (CAT) Clinic, which opened July 6, 2020, to test asymptomatic service members sent from their respective command, pre-operative surgical patients and those deemed necessary for administrative purposes. The Laboratory Department was also presented, with emphasis on how the COVID-19 tests and other lab tests are managed, prepared and controlled. 

With the continual overlapping emphasis on the pandemic outbreak, NHB’s efforts – along with response plans, lessons sustained and lessons learned – was explained by Cmdr. Robert Uniszkiewicz, the command’s COVID-19 czar and COVID-19 working group head. 

“We knew first off that we needed to work directly with our partners. We established multidisciplinary collaborative efforts across civilian health officers, tri-service public health experts and emergency managers with Navy Region Northwest, Joint Base Lewis-McChord and Madigan Army Medical Center, Kitsap Public Health District and Naval Medical Forces Pacific,” said Uniszkiewicz. “We shared lessons learned, policies, procedures and products. We combined various guidelines and policies into a clear public health strategy for the Pacific Northwest and were able to bridge communication and unified messages between medical community and operational commanders. Those lines of communication were extremely important.”

Uniszkiewicz also described that NHB’s COVID-19 response was a total team collaborative effort, including a virtual health transition for primary care and mental health patients, adding changes to the Main Pharmacy such as curbside medication delivery for high risk patients; and applying sustained health protection measures such as single points of entry for staff and patients, mandatory cloth face covering and maximizing tele-health and services. 

“Quoting Terry Lerma, our emergency preparedness manager, ‘don’t let a good crisis go to waste,’ we were flexible to leverage a number of changes, many which are just not taught,” said Uniszkiewicz. “Our working group is made up of multi-disciplinary, cross-functional, collaborative subject matter experts. Our public health emergency officers were constantly engaged in fleet communications. Command Navy Region Northwest, Naval Base Kitsap and Puget Sound Naval Shipyard provided outstanding operational support. We had consistent communication with civilian counterparts with Kitsap County Public Health and Washington State Hospital Association. Our SharePoint site for fleet and commanding officer access has been a ‘best practice.’ Utilizing public affairs in a variety of ways to communicate internal and externally has also been very effective.”

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