Even with an ongoing facility transition, the care and safety of its patients and each other is the top concern of staff at Ireland Army Health Clinic, according to Col. Kevin Bass, the IRAHC commander. And such efforts haven't gone unnoticed.

Recently the clinic was recognized by the Army Safety and Health Management System, as an Army Safety and Occupational Health Star site--recognition that the clinic has successfully completed a 3-year process, encompassing 243 tasks, toward excellence in safety and health.

"There are a couple of reasons this Star of Excellence is a big deal," Bass explained. "First, within the Regional Health Command-Atlantic, of which we are a part, only 24 percent of the medical treatment facilities have earned a star. And within Medical Command, only 40 percent of facilities have earned the star."

To break that down, RHC-A is made up of 42 MTFs and only 10 have achieved the star. And Army Medical Command is made up of 127 MTFs but only 51 have the star.

"And the second reason this is a big deal is because we were ordered to transition from a hospital to a clinic and that metamorphosis won't be complete until we move into the new building," he added. "So we have been dealing with the transition, while maintaining our normal, robust workload, and managing the medical requirements of the various, critical troop training requirements that Fort Knox has. And let me say, none of this would be possible without the incredible staff that makes up IRAHC."

ASHMS is not just a military safety program--it's a DoD safety and health management system that was adopted from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's Voluntary Protection Program, according to John Cecil, IRAHC and Fort Knox MEDDAC safety manager.

"The OSHA VPP can be applied to all industries, to include healthcare," he explained. "And ASHMS, like the OSHA VPP, is applicable to all Army workplaces. MEDCOM was selected as the first pilot for implementation with other direct reporting units to follow. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is the second direct reporting unit to begin the ASHMS process."

Safer workplaces allow medical facility staff to focus resources on medical care, because every employee injury or piece of equipment damaged affects resources for medical care. Cecil added that medical facilities with ASHMS in place are safer workplaces, which increases employee focus on their customers.

"ASHMS does for employee safety what The Joint Commission does for patient safety," he said.

Civilian medical facilities may petition for OSHA VPP status the same as they petition for The Joint Commission accreditation or The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services accreditation, he noted. However, civilian medical facilities would be required to complete the same three year process through OSHA VPP as Army workplaces do through ASHMS.

To mark the honor Bass said IRAHC was bestowed a streamer to attach to its unit flag--one of only 51 such streamers in all of MEDCOM. The clinic previously earned a Superior Unit Award.

"The last two years have not been easy for the staff here," Bass recalled. "They have watched services descope, friends find new jobs, all while wondering what was next. And they have done yeomen's work in accomplishing their regular workloads, handling the medical side of the house for Fort Knox's critical missions and still managed to gain a star.

"In my opinion it wasn't just a Star of Excellence for safety and health. "It's a symbol of the excellent staff we have here and their willingness to get the job done--even if it's painful, even if it's difficult. I just want Fort Knox and the community to know the quality of the people who make up our MEDDAC."