Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, the largest American trauma center overseas, was recently welcomed into the German Society for Trauma Surgery, or Deutsche Gesellschaft für Unfallchirurgie – DGU, becoming the first American trauma center in coalition with a foreign trauma network. The exclusive membership partners LRMC with German trauma centers to improve interoperability and coordination of patient care across Germany.
Developed during the mid-twentieth century, the DGU aims to advance comprehensive and sustained promotion of scientific, practical, vocational and interdisciplinary activities in the field of traumatology, particularly trauma surgery. Key efforts focus on training, treatment, quality assurance, medical education and optimizing patient safety.
“The certification has a direct impact for our patients, beneficiaries and (LRMC) family because if patients find themselves (in areas far away from LRMC) and they get into a major accident, they will most likely be transported to a German trauma center,” explains Army Lt. Col. Eric Ahnfeldt, assistant trauma program director at LRMC. “With the recent certification, instead of just being another trauma patient that speaks English, (the patient) may be assigned an American trauma physician from LRMC to interact with host nation physicians, receive updates regarding care and (the patient) can expect all the quality (patient safety) measures we have in the United States. Eventually, the patient will also get transferred to LRMC as part of that trauma network.”
LRMC is the evacuation and treatment center for all injured U.S. Service Members, U.S. civilians, and members of 56 Coalition Forces serving across Europe, Africa and the Middle East, supporting four combatant commands in the process. The hospital was recently verified as a Level II Trauma Center by the American College of Surgeons, following Level III designation for approximately eight years and was previously a Level I Trauma Center before that, largely due to casualties from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
“(Membership into the DGU) is an important step forward because this helps LRMC completely fulfill its core mission as being the primary casualty receiving center for this half of the globe for the U.S. Military,” said Army Col. Jean-Claude D’Alleyrand, director of Surgical Services at LRMC. “In order to fulfill that mission, we have to be agile and respond to any flow of casualties, be it just a handful or dozens. Part of that means being able to extend our capabilities beyond our own walls, and that means involving our host nation partners.”
In August of 2021, LRMC’s response to a mass casualty event was tested in a real-world situation during the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan which also led to mass evacuations of Afghan civilians. During this time, Ramstein Air Base, located less than 8 miles from LRMC, played a vital role in evacuation efforts. As expected, LRMC supported medical operations, including inpatient and trauma treatment. In addition to the 35,000 Afghan evacuees who journeyed through Ramstein Air Base, LRMC capabilities were also tested following the Aug. 26 Kabul attack that killed 13 American Service Members and hundreds of Afghan civilians, as more than 20 U.S. service members and Afghan civilians were medevacked to LRMC.
“During our response to the influx of patients from the (withdrawal) and particularly to the large flow of patients that came in from (Kabul), we were incredibly fortunate to have friends and neighbors in the form of our German counterparts,” recalls D’Alleyrand. “I think we responded exceptionally well, essentially flawlessly, but we were very much dependent on the support, assistance and friendship of our local counterparts. They provided anything we asked of them and really extended a hand of friendship when we were going through a very dark hour.”
The partnerships formed during Operation Allies Refuge and Operation Allies Welcome opened doors for more discussion toward formal collaboration between American and German medical facilities.
Not only does the partnership help Americans impacted by trauma while living overseas, membership also benefits medical staff from the American Military Treatment Facility and German trauma centers, as recently demonstrated with a virtual grand rounds medical education presentation by a host-nation specialist to American physicians.
“We’re not only working with those trauma centers, we’re participating with quality assurance measures, making sure (patients) are getting the world-class care they deserve,” said Ahnfeldt, who also serves as the chief of Surgical Services for the 519th Hospital Center, 30th Medical Brigade.
Additionally, because the DGU is methodically divided into regions based on state trauma systems, LRMC’s unique location between the German states of Rheinland-Pfalz and Saarland allows for more collaboration between German medical centers.
“We’re fortunate enough, because of our unique location, unique mission set and our unique clientele (American Service Members) to be in two trauma systems, which is certainly a first for German trauma centers,” said D’Alleyrand.