Naval Hospital Oak Harbor expanding, improving services

Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class Nicodemus P. Ruczynski, assigned to Naval Hospital Oak Harbor laboratory, reads a microscopic specimen during urinalysis testing.  - Contributed photo
Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class Nicodemus P. Ruczynski, assigned to Naval Hospital Oak Harbor laboratory, reads a microscopic specimen during urinalysis testing.
— image credit: Contributed photo

With new P-8 Poseidon squadrons expected to arrive at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station, the base hospital is expanding and improving services, according to base officials.

Primary changes include closure of the hospital’s Urgent Care Center, expansion of the Medical Home Port Primary Care Center, upgrades to the birthing center and the addition of a 24-hour nurse hotline.

The hospital serves more than 20,000 service members, retirees and their families living in and around NAS Whidbey, according to the Navy.

“Medical practice, and the people we serve, has changed significantly since we opened 45 years ago, and Naval Hospital Oak Harbor has adapted over the years to ensure we continue to provide the very best care to those who rely on us,” said Capt. Edward Simmer, the hospital’s commanding officer.

The Navy said it will partner with area hospitals so Navy surgeons are allowed to perform operations at civilian hospitals.

Civilian hospitals typically are better equipped for surgical procedures and have Intensive Care Units, which the Naval Hospital does not, said NAS Whidbey officials.

“The changes will benefit our patients in a couple of ways,” Simmer said.

“It’s going to let us do more surgeries, offering more care than we do now and in more than one location.”

The Navy took flack in 2007 when it announced plans to close the Naval Hospital emergency room and limit urgent care to daytime hours.

Some in the military community said they were concerned that they might lose 24-hour care options, said Sharon McIntyre, the hospital’s public affairs officer.

McIntyre said that hospital’s leadership learned from that experience and tried to notify people of the new changes to ensure they understand their needs will continue to be met.

The hospital’s decision to close its Urgent Care Center was made because of its lack of use, Simmer said.

The Medical Home Port model focuses on wellness and maintaining good health, he said, which has decreased the hospital’s need for non-maternity inpatient care.

“Our Urgent Care Center also has had a significant decrease in utilization, since most people are now healthier and can get an appointment with their regular provider when they need it, generally on a same-day basis,” Simmer said.

Rather than going to urgent care and having to wait to see a doctor, patients can call and make an appointment with a primary care staff member, Simmer said, adding that will lead to better, more consistent care.

“That’s all going to be a plus for the patients,” Simmer said.

“For example, converting urgent care, where patients are seen by a doctor they likely do not know and have never seen before, to an expanded Medical Home Port with evening and weekend hours will ensure patients can be seen by the team they know and trust.”

A 24-hour nurse hotline will be available to retirees and active duty patients with medical concerns and questions. Nursing staff will have access to hospital schedules so they can book appointments.

The Naval Hospital is negotiating with two area hospitals and is expected to make an announcement with one of them in January, Simmer said.

The Navy plans to have the majority of changes implemented by April and to have the birthing center upgrades completed by 2016.


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