By David Ruderman, USAG Vicenza Public Affairs October 3, 2012
VICENZA, Italy - An increase in staff and the helping hands of a traveling orthopedic surgeon have expanded same-day surgical services at U.S. Army Health Center Vicenza to the betterment of Soldiers and Family members alike.
"Over the last couple of months we've added a general surgeon to staff, we have three gynecological surgeons on staff, and an orthopedic surgeon, who rotates actually from Aviano Air Base. He comes down two or three times a month to see patients as well as perform surgical cases," said USAHC V chief of surgery, Lt. Col. Claude Burnett.
The availability of more same-day services in the Caserma Ederle-based health clinic saves patients both the time and the hassle of travel elsewhere for the medical attention they need, he said.
"The fact that we are now able to perform outpatient surgeries at the health center is a big deal if you happen to be a patient who's in need of an outpatient surgery, and you have to travel to Aviano, Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany or to the host nation," said Burnett, who arrived in Vicenza in March.
Travel to Aviano requires a two-hour drive, and travel to Landstuhl, which is north of the Alps, requires a 12-hour bus ride, he said.
The availability of an orthopedic surgeon is particularly relevant to the Vicenza community, home of the 173rd Airborne's Sky Soldiers, said Burnett. "He's an Air Force orthopedic surgeon, but with a sports medicine fellowship," he said.
"He's more highly specialized, which is what the Airborne Brigade needs," said Lt. Col. Eric Lewis, chief of anesthesia and perioperative services at USAHC V.
"Absolutely, with the Airborne Brigade, the fact that we are able to offer orthopedic care, if you will for probably the most common injuries you'd have in an airborne brigade - shoulder injuries, knee injuries, so forth and so on - it's a big deal . . . it complements our demographics well," said Burnett.
Recuperation takes place in the barracks or at home, he said.
"The planning process to get the same-day surgery piece functioning here started in earnest within the last five to six months," said Burnett.
"One of Col. Daniel Gall's initiatives and goals was to bring the same-day surgery online," he said. Gall is the USAHC V commander.
And it's not active duty Soldiers only who will benefit from the on-site surgical services, said Burnett.
"The mission is to serve the military communities in Northern Italy - Caserma Ederle, Caserma Del Din and Camp Darby - with priority to TRICARE Prime beneficiaries -- active-duty servicemembers and their Family members - and service to non-Prime beneficiaries on a space-available basis," he said.
"Up until February we had only a single obstetrics and gynecology surgeon covering our birthing center and our OB/GYN clinic. Now there are three. We brought the general surgeon on board within the last month. He's on site, he's seeing patients now and has actually already begun performing surgeries here," he said.
"We've completed putting the surgical infrastructure in place, organizing the surgical services, which include general surgery, gynecology, orthopedics, oral-maxillofacial surgery, pediatric dentistry and even some dermatology," Burnett said.
Patients at the dental clinic benefit as well from the health center's capabilities, said Lt. Col. Jason Strange, oral and maxillofacial surgeon at the Vicenza Dental Clinic.
"The OR lets us expand the level of services we can provide," he said.
"We've just finished organizing the infrastructure - the staffing and so forth - and so we're at the point now where all the members are in place and protocols and so forth, we're at the point now where we're ready to go live," said Burnett.
Ideas for future expansion are under consideration, but are dependent on developments in the community at large, he said.
"We're constantly reassessing the demands, so obviously we're just getting out of the gate, and with the anticipated population growth in Vicenza over the next one to two years or three years we'll be closely monitoring what the demand is going to be," Burnett said.
Lewis said an intermediate plan for increasing the scope services for the orthopedic surgeon is timed to coincide with the redeployment of the brigade.
"With the redeployment of the brigade, we are expecting that they're going to have some orthopedic demands that we will be able to accommodate at the health center," he said.
Burnett said, "I think once the community knows it's available and starts utilizing it, we can better gauge what the demand is going to be. The critical piece is going to be that increase in population, and that's just an unknown."
Adding an orthopedic surgeon to the staff itself would be demand driven, he said.
"The goal initially is to increase the visits of the Aviano orthopedic surgeon, and he's willing to do that as the need increases, he's willing to increase his time down here," Lewis said.
"We do expect an increase as the population expands. . . . Again, the scope of services here at the health center, as I view it, is going to be a mission- and demand-driven product. The medical piece will evolve to fit the needs of the community, whatever the community is going to be, whatever that component, whatever that demographic is going to be. When it levels off, we'll be synchronized with it," Burnett said.