Naval Hospital’s future studied

A thorough and independent health care delivery study at Naval Hospital Oak Harbor will ideally help direct the facility well into its future.

The six-month study, conducted by consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton, was commissioned by leadership at Navy Medicine West, the region’s medical command.

The hospital was singled out for the study after top brass observed the ripple effect generated by its transition to an Urgent Care Clinic in August. The civilian medical community’s bemoaning of the prohibitively low Tricare reimbursement rates also helped make a case for examining services on NAS Whidbey.

“They came to a realization that the local community, our beneficiary community as well as the Oak Harbor community, is very concerned about the medical care offered to our military beneficiaries here,” said Capt. Colin Chinn, the 13-bed hospital’s commanding officer.

The comprehensive health care study is designed to address exactly what care the beneficiaries — a diverse group in themselves — are seeking, and identify the optimal way to deliver that care.

The consultant’s team, which includes two members who reside in the Pacific Northwest, sat down with three focus groups last month, generating input from retirees, line leadership and ombudsmen, with additional feedback solicited from military spouses and other beneficiary representatives.

“Let us be part of the solution,” said retiree Bill McDaniel during the informal focus group session.

From speaking with clinical department staff to engaging pharmacy customers, fact-finding is an involved, interactive process that grows tendrils from existing tendrils. Following its time in the naval medical facility, the consultant team fanned out into the community, conversing with the layman as well as meeting with administration from Whidbey General and Island hospitals.

“Health care is all interrelated,” said project leader Regina Little-Durham after meeting with the Navy retirees. When the number crunching begins, criteria like access and military readiness will be included in the equation. “We’ll be going through a lot of data.”

Chinn has made a concentrated effort to remain behind-the-scenes during the study. He emphasized that the impetus of the study was not to strip services. The focus is to generate a completely objective set of data that will ultimately guide future recommendations.

“Adm. Christine Hunter emphasized over and over that there is no predetermined outcome,” Chinn said. “This is not a project to decrease services or cut things. The reason we’re doing this study is to determine what we can do to increase access to care for our beneficiaries in the most efficient manner. And if it means getting more resources, she will look at that critically.”

Supporting the war effort has made a tangible impact on the hospital as well as the rest of the base, Chinn said. Along with the urgent care transition and the Tricare quandary, the deployment of medical staff also caught Hunter’s attention.

“At one point in time I had 16 percent of my active duty staff deployed,” he said. “That greatly affects access. With all that going on, what do we need to do to maintain access to care?”

For a health care facility of its size, Chinn said periodic studies are valuable and necessary, as changes in the Navy are as likely as changes in medicine. Similar studies were conducted in 2000 and 2004.

“The base has changed and will continue to change,” he said. “In 2000, we didn’t have a war. And now we have new planes being stationed here. We have to look at these changes and make sure we can support those communities. The outcome of the study will be driven by improving access to health care. To ensure continuity and quality.”

The consultant will submit its report to Navy Medicine West in February. The earliest any changes could be implemented would be in October 2008.

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