JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas –
Brooke Army Medical Center celebrated the 25th anniversary of its Level I trauma verification during a ceremony Dec. 14 in the hospital’s Medical Mall at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston.
Several members of the military and civilian communities attended the event hosted by BAMC Commanding General Brig. Gen. Deydre Teyhen.
Teyhen opened the ceremony by talking about the people who were responsible for sustaining the Level I Trauma verification for the past 25 years, including retired U.S. Army Cols. (Dr.) Steve Flaherty and (Dr.) Ian Thompson, both in attendance, who played vital roles in achieving the Level I verification.
Hospitals seeking Level I trauma verification must undergo intense scrutiny by reviewers from the American College of Surgeons Committee on Trauma every three years. To be verified, the hospital must demonstrate its ability to provide a broad spectrum of trauma care resources to address the needs of all injured patients. This spectrum encompasses the prehospital phase through the rehabilitation process.
“Our current staff stands on the shoulders of giants and continues to carry our trauma mission with integrity, compassion and empathy; dignity and respect; collaboration and teamwork; and above all, commitment to excellence,” Teyhen said.
“Our trauma mission has not only allowed us to provide care for trauma patients in the local community, but it has provided real-world experience for our military caregivers that they can now apply when they are called upon to deploy,” the commander said.
U.S. Army Brig. Gen E. Darrin Cox, commanding general, U.S. Army Medical Readiness Command, West and director, Small Market & Stand-Alone Military Treatment Facility Organization, spoke on behalf of U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Ronald Place, Defense Health Agency director.
“The Level I Trauma Center is the ideal training and sustainment environment for ready medics, nurses and physicians,” Cox said. “It is not only an asset within the community but is vital to military medical readiness and national security. The region has grown to trust the quality of care they will receive when an emergency occurs, and we are humbled and proud to serve our community in this capacity.”
BAMC’s Level I Trauma Center serves San Antonio and the surrounding region, caring for more than 6,000 military and civilian trauma patients each year, including 750 burn patients, from an area that stretches across 22 counties in Southwest Texas and encompasses 2.2 million people.
About 85 percent of BAMC’s trauma admissions are community members without military affiliation. BAMC can accept civilian trauma patients for care through the Department of Defense’s Secretarial Designee Program and related special authorities.
“By treating a large number of complex trauma cases from the civilian community whose injuries replicate wartime injuries, BAMC trains hundreds of military health professionals to go to war,” Cox said. “This readiness enables our professionals to respond quickly and efficiently when called upon, whether here in San Antonio or deployed overseas. The Uvalde and Sutherland Springs shootings are examples of this market’s readiness to provide care.”
As the sole Level I Trauma Center within the Military Health System, it serves as the premier medical readiness training platform for both the Army and the Air Force, training more than 600 physicians in Graduate Medical Education programs and 900 medical students at BAMC.
“At several points during the pandemic, BAMC took on a higher percentage of trauma patients to alleviate the pressure on the health care system,” Cox added. “And with each occasion, the redistribution of high-level trauma care was accomplished seamlessly due to this community’s history of collaboration and partnership.”
The trauma mission and community partnerships are unique within the DoD. BAMC receives traumatically injured patients through a written agreement with Bexar County Hospital District. The Southwest Texas Regional Advisory Council, or STRAC, coordinates the region's trauma care, ensuring patients are transported to a health facility that will best meet their treatment needs. BAMC also works closely with its local Level I trauma partner, University Hospital, throughout the process.
Eric Epley, executive director, STRAC, talked about the history of trauma medicine in San Antonio, civilian and military partnerships, and the added challenges the city of San Antonio faced over the past three years because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The pandemic has been incredibly tough on all of us,” he said, highlighting the fact that BAMC took on additional trauma patients as University Hospital focused its resources on COVID patients.
“I have an incredible amount of pride when I think of all the things BAMC has done in these 25 years,” Epley said. “I’m honored to be here and celebrate … this momentous occasion.”
Dr. Ronald Stewart, a trauma surgeon and Department of Surgery chair at UT Health San Antonio, shared insight about how the trauma mission evolved in San Antonio.
“Brooke Army Medical Center, University Hospital and Wilford Hall Medical Center all became verified ACS trauma centers in the same year,” Stewart said. “We all agreed that we would cooperate and communicate with each other … We really learned to improve trauma care by working together.”
Stewart expressed his gratitude for what BAMC does for patients, the community, and military personnel deployed in harm’s way.
“BAMC is the only place where you can fully train an entire team of people to go to war … and it’s the only place where a trauma surgeon can lead a program,” Stewart said. “This is the only place in the Department of Defense that can be done, and it’s critically important.”
“I want to thank you for your leadership, the entire team for all you do,” Stewart concluded. “I want to thank you for making us (UT Health) better, for me personally better, and for your innovation in improving trauma care across the globe. I want you to know what a real difference you make in our patients and in our lives. We are sincerely and truly grateful.”
Retired Maj. Gen. Juan Ayala, director of the Office of Military and Veteran Affairs for the City of San Antonio, presented a special congratulations for the city signed by San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg.
Ayala also reaffirmed the city’s commitment to supporting BAMC’s Level I trauma mission.
“The city knows you’re here and the city and the community appreciate the fact that you are here, and we are very thankful,” Ayala said.
Dr. Timothy Nuñez, chief of Trauma and Critical Care at BAMC closed the ceremony by explaining what it takes to receive and maintain the Level I trauma designation and verification.
“The important thing to note is it takes the dedication of the entire institution, from nursing to nutrition to radiology to the patient administrative division to graduate medical education to all of our medical and surgical specialties, trauma is a team sport,” Nuñez said. “It is hard to find someone in this building who is not vital to our trauma mission.”
Since opening as a trauma center, BAMC has taken care of more than 58,000 trauma patients, he noted.
“This experience has benefitted hundreds, if not thousands, of military healthcare personnel and directly contributed to the care they were able to provide combat casualties both deployed and when those service members returned home,” he said. “This experience has only gotten more robust through the years with over 300% growth in the number of patients treated annually over the past 10 years.”
In 2021, BAMC had 5,600 trauma activations and nearly 4,000 trauma admissions.
“The investment that BAMC started 25 years ago and continues to this day has saved so many lives here and down range,” Nuñez said. “Thank you to everyone who supports this mission.”