JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas —
Sitting in his conference room, Maj. Gen. John DeGoes, 59th Medical Wing commander, is surrounded by floor-to-ceiling windows and the clean, modern lines of Wilford Hall Ambulatory Surgical Center at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland.
It’s a much different view, he reflects, than the one he saw sitting in the auditorium of the old WHASC, which he affectionately names “Big Willy,” as an internal medicine student entering his residency thirty years ago.
However, he remarks, the people are the same – just as innovative, just as determined to provide the best care to their patients.
“They are an amazing group of medics that are committed to the mission - warrior medics in spirit - delivering excellent care, figuring out better ways to do things both here and downrange,” he said. “More often than not, innovations have come from San Antonio and the 59th Medical Wing. That innovative spirit is going to live on in [our] medics.”
DeGoes has spent a dozen years here – over a third of his career – and he says he is proud to be leading the people of the 59th Medical Wing in the “twilight of his career.” Looking back on his past year in command, DeGoes reflected on how the wing has done in executing their mission of ensuring the readiness of patients and medics; and healthcare delivery.
In short, he says, “The wing is doing well and we can do everything better.”
“We are a learning organization that is continuously trying to improve. We focus on how to do things better.”
He shared one story that he said exemplified the wing and the approach each member of the 59th MDW has, regardless of their career field.
“A patient sitting in our atrium began to violently choke,” he recalled. “Now, we have a lot of medics in the building, but the first person to his side was a [medical equipment maintainer]. Direct patient care isn’t really his day job, but on that day he saved a life. It was extraordinary.”
He encourages the men and women of the 59th MDW to carry that drive into the upcoming year and beyond. He wants everyone to ask the question: how can we give our leaders at all levels the tools they need to succeed, to be prepared to do their mission, wherever it is?
“Whether it’s in the sky at 40,000 feet, delivering critical care in the air; or a tent in Afghanistan or Iraq; or in a disaster at home or abroad.”
In the upcoming year, the wing will face a variety of challenges, first among them change - the wing will transition to the authority of the Defense Health Agency with the fiscal year.
DeGoes likens it to the change that occurred in 2010, when missions shifted at the Brooke Army Medical Center and the WHASC, leading to more collaboration than ever before between the two healthcare centers.
“You could call it a sort of shotgun wedding - the Air Force had to adapt to some Army ways and the Army had to adapt to some Air Force ways and over the last 9 years, we’ve greatly improved our efficiency and how well we work together,” he said.
Another upcoming challenge DeGoes remarked upon were proposed cuts to the number of active duty doctors, nurses and technicians across the services, to only what is needed to support deployments.
"There has been no change to the healthcare benefit for the 9.5 million beneficiaries in the military health system or the 250,000 in the San Antonio Military Health System,” DeGoes said. “If some or all of the proposed active duty medic cuts occur, it will result in some care being shifted to the network. We are fortunate to have an excellent managed care support network in San Antonio. However, the 59th MDW, along with our partners at BAMC, will continue to innovate and do all possible to meet the healthcare demand in our military treatment facilities.”
He is confident that the wing will continue to build on that momentum to make better use of resources and make healthcare more streamlined and efficient by sharing best practices and systems.
“‘Whether you’re in the Army, Air Force or Navy, there are only so many ways to take a temperature,’” DeGoes shared a joke told by DHA director Vice Admiral Raquel C. Bono that he felt summed up the transition well. “There’s some fog and some friction, but I see us all coming together in one military health system.”