Ireland Army Health Clinic, in preparation for its move into the new structure, has started transitioning retirees to the civilian healthcare network and will soon notify the next group of beneficiaries to be transferred of their options and the help available to them.

IRAHC leadership, the Veterans Administration, Humana and area network partners will speak to retirees at a town hall Dec. 18 from 5-7 p.m., at the American Legion located at 1251 Ring Road, Elizabethtown. The discussion will include an update on the transition to date, and a healthcare education presentation where experts will talk about how to navigate the network, find a doctor and explain the similarities and differences between military and civilian healthcare processes. A question and answer period will follow.

The U.S. Army Health Facilities Planning Agency clinic construction guidelines and Title 10 Public Law only allow room in the new health clinic for current active duty Soldiers and their family members, with consideration to military readiness support.

As Col. Kevin Bass, IRAHC and Fort Knox Medical Department Activity commander, noted in a Sept. 13 story in the Fort Knox Gold Standard, the Army's focus on military readiness is one of the driving forces behind some of its recent changes as Army Medicine continues to build medical readiness.

"The size of the clinic depended on how many active duty personnel and their families are stationed at Fort Knox," explained Bass. "And if the force grows again in the future, then the current design can be expanded upon--there is space in reserve to create a medical campus should that occur.

"Military treatment facilities are able to see retirees on a space available basis, and Ireland has done that for years," he added. "But with a new clinic being built and the restrictions placed on its construction, we will not have the space to see retirees when it's finished."

With these changes comes a lot of uncertainty and questions from those whom it will effect, which is why IRAHC leadership has designed several community town halls, according to Lt. Col. Peter Markot, the deputy commander and chief of staff.

"We promised our beneficiaries, and our staff, regular updates regarding changes and our progress in our transition and transformation," he explained. "And that is what this town hall is about--updates and information. Also, while the first town hall discussed how IRAHC services and the beneficiary population got to where it is now, this town hall is designed to educate and answer questions.

"We want our beneficiaries to hear from our partners so they know what services our partners provide, what similarities in military and civilian terminology might be, how they can select services and doctors--anything that will educate folks more about the civilian healthcare system."

He added that using network providers is not a new concept for military medicine because, for example, IRAHC regularly sends its Soldiers and their families to the network for services the clinic no longer provides.

Markot, who will act as moderator for the Dec. 18 town hall, said these kinds of discussions with network partners have given him information he previously did not know, or had not considered. For example, when filing a prescription for a controlled substance in the civilian sector there are laws and regulations to which a doctor must adhere. So requiring a regular medicine check/test is routine for many civilian doctors.

But transitioning beneficiaries don't have to "go it alone." Not only will the network partners be on hand to explain their process and answer any questions, the IRAHC command team set up a gateway to ready-assistance called the Beneficiary Transition Cell.

"The BTC will act as a bridge between IRAHC and network primary care providers to facilitate a smooth transfer of care," said Tina Birch, the chief of the Managed Care Division.

"The BTC will help meet each patient's needs with items like scheduling a transition appointment with a patient's current primary care manager. That way we can make sure medications, lab-work, and referrals are up to date," she explained. "Other things we can do to assist include coordinating the initial new network PCM appointment, providing benefit information to include Tricare options, cost and claim information and assisting patients obtain their medical records."

By visiting the BTC, the staff can make sure patients have enough of their current medications on hand, and get a doctor's appointment for follow up care at IRAHC before they are transitioned out to the network. The goal of the BTC is to make sure patients are well taken care of during the transition and don't fall through the cracks.

Also, any retiree who served in active military service may qualify for VA healthcare benefits. The BTC staff can help retirees get in touch with the local VA and start the eligibility determination process. If the VA determines a veteran is eligible for benefits and enrollment is an option, BTC staff can help provide resources to complete the process.

Markot said the IRAHC team is doing its best to make sure all the town hall attendees are set up for success. Even Soldiers who are not yet retirees can learn from the town halls--himself included, he said.

"Change in itself is difficult, but changes in health care are personal," he said. "We acknowledge this and are dedicated to enduring a seamless transition for our retired beneficiaries. We understand that folks may not like the change, but we hope they take comfort in knowing that we will assist them through the entire process. Our goal is to ensure they receive the same level of quality care in the network that they deserve."