JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas –
Brooke Army Medical Center is expanding its ability to care for critically injured community members to help ease the COVID-19 burden on the local healthcare system.
With the demand for COVID-19 care increasing, BAMC recently began accepting a higher percentage of trauma patients through transfers from other hospitals throughout the region, as it did during the summer COVID-19 surge, said Air Force Col. (Dr.) Patrick Osborn, San Antonio Military Health System Surgeon-in-Chief and BAMC’s Deputy Commander for Surgical Services.
The trauma patients are transferred from community hospitals based on their need for higher-level care, he explained.
By sending additional critically ill patients to BAMC, the Southwest Texas Regional Advisory Council, which manages the trauma region, is able to reduce stress on the University Hospital Trauma Service as the COVID-19 census increases. BAMC and University Hospital are the only Level I trauma centers within Trauma Service Area-P, a 26,000-square-mile, 22-county expanse.
“Unfortunately, traumatic injuries and other emergent medical conditions do not stop during a pandemic so the baseline requirements of a health care system remain,” Osborn said. “Our increased role helps ensure the regional trauma system remains intact despite the increasing healthcare system stress caused by the current surge.”
To ensure BAMC’s healthcare professionals are poised to support an increased need for acute inpatient care and to preserve capacity for beneficiaries and trauma patients, SAMHS began delaying many non-urgent, elective surgical cases last week, particularly those requiring an overnight stay. Most other surgeries, including trauma-related care, remain unaffected.
“We understand the concern and inconvenience this decision causes,” Osborn said, “but such a drastic move is necessary to preserve healthcare resources in what looks to be an alarming increase in COVID cases. SAMHS had to adopt this posture twice since the pandemic started, and we have shown the agility to quickly reopen elective surgical access once conditions warrant.”
“We will continue to assess conditions daily and adjust as needed,” he added. “We greatly appreciate everyone’s patience and support as we work to ensure everyone’s safety.”
As in the summer, STRAC’s redistribution of high-level trauma care is being accomplished seamlessly due to the history of collaboration between the two Level I facilities, noted Air Force Lt. Col. Valerie Sams, BAMC trauma medical director.
“We have an active and long-standing partnership with STRAC and University Hospital, which enables us to act as a cohesive, efficient system in times of crisis,” Sams said.
Alongside University, BAMC provides lifesaving care to more than 4,000 trauma patients each year, including 750 burn patients, from an area that stretches across 22 counties in Southwest Texas. About 85 percent of BAMC’s trauma admissions are community members without military affiliation. BAMC is able to accept civilian trauma patients for care through the DoD’s Secretarial Designee Program and related special authorities.
“We are grateful to work alongside our civilian counterparts in this city’s world-class healthcare and trauma system,” said BAMC Commanding General Brig. Gen. Shan Bagby. “These partnerships have proved invaluable, particularly throughout the pandemic, and we will continue to look for opportunities to collaborate and innovate.”