JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO, Texas -- The Undersea & Hyperbaric Medicine Clinic at Brooke Army Medical Center received a four-year reaccreditation with distinction from the Undersea & Hyperbaric Medical Society last month.

"Achieving this significant milestone reflects you and your organization's commitment to excellence," stated a letter from Derall Garrett, UHMS director, to Air Force Col. (Dr.) Michael Richards, Undersea & Hyperbaric Medicine Service chief, here.

"The surveyors were impressed with our comprehensive checklists and checklist discipline," Richards said. "All three surveyors were generally extremely impressed with the physical structure, the staff, and our operations."

UHMS is an international nonprofit association formed in 1967, which serves about 2,000 physicians, scientists, associates and nurses from more than 50 countries in the fields of hyperbaric and dive medicine.

The Joint Commission and UHMS have a complementary accreditation agreement. Under the agreement, hyperbaric medicine is still responsible for maintaining TJC standards.

A UHMS Accreditation means the facility has met the highest standards of care and patient safety through a rigorous evaluation of the adequacy of the facility, equipment, staff and training to ensure that the utmost quality is maintained within the specialty.

The Accreditation Council of the UHMS has a new set of objective criteria that must be met for a hyperbaric facility to be accredited "with distinction." For a hyperbaric facility to be accredited WD, the facility must achieve a minimum score of 6 out of the available 10.5 points.

"I'm very proud of the work my folks have done." Richards said. "We have a tradition of earning accreditation with distinction, but this survey was extra special since we had the challenge of moving to a new facility and the criteria for achieving the 'with distinction' designation are more stringent."

The clinic houses a multi-person chamber to accommodate up to six patients at one time. It is pressurized with air and patients breathe oxygen underneath a hood or with a mask. Generally, a treatment plan will consist of 90 minutes of hyperbaric oxygen daily for six weeks or more. While in the chamber, patients can recline in a comfortable chair and watch TV or read.

A single chamber is also available for an individual patient to receive treatment. The facility was built so that an additional multi-person can be added if needed in the future.

According UHMS, hyperbaric oxygen is an intervention in which an individual breathes nearly 100 percent oxygen while inside a hyperbaric chamber that is pressurized to greater than sea level pressure.

"While hyperbaric chambers have been around for a few hundred years, hyperbaric oxygen is a more recent treatment," Richards explained. "Initially, patients were simply treated in pressurized rooms, but they just breathed air. In the 1800s, we knew that breathing oxygen under pressure could be toxic, so we avoided it. In the 1930s, some investigators began looking into using oxygen under pressure and developed safe protocols for its use."

The hyperbaric mission moved from Wilford Hall Ambulatory Surgical Center to BAMC in June 2017.

Richards credits the support of BAMC staff and leadership. "We couldn't have done this without BAMC support," he said.