San Antonio area Air Force, Army medical centers to merge

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Matthew Bates
  • Air Force Print News
Medical care for military families in the San Antonio area is changing. Not in what it offers, but where, officals said.

Wilford Hall and Brooke Army Medical Centers are set to merge by 2011 as part of the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure Commission recommendations. Combined, the two medical centers will become the San Antonio Military Medical Center, or SAMMC.

Under this merger, all in-patient care at Wilford Hall will move to BAMC and some of BAMC's clinical services, such as dermatology, will move to WHMC.

The goal of this move is two-fold: It will save money and enable the medical centers to provide the best care possible to their patients.

"Basically, this move is making things more efficient," said Maj. Gen. (Dr.) Thomas W. Travis, 59th Medical Wing commander.

In total, more than 200 clinics and support functions will move during the transition to SAMMC. Once the consolidation is complete, WHMC will become SAMMC-South and BAMC will become SAMMC-North.

"The names might be changing, but the quality care our patients are used to will not," General Travis said.

To prepare for the new missions each medical center will be undertaking, BAMC is undergoing a $750 million renovation and WHMC is receiving $100 million in improvements.

"Our biggest challenge is keeping both facilities running while these renovations are happening," the general said. "But we're committed to providing the best care possible to our patients. I'm confident we will."

Staff members at each hospital are also confident, they said.

"This move will help us tremendously," said Lt. Col. (Dr.) William Clouse, chief of vascular/endovascular surgery at WHMC. "We'll be receiving new facilities and capabilities. It's really an exciting time for medical professionals here."

Plus, the colonel added, the move allows Air Force and Army medical personnel to work together, something that's already happening in deployed environments.

"From a total-force perspective, this move is great. In Iraq and Afghanistan Air Force and Army work side-by-side in field hospitals," Colonel Clouse said. "Now we'll be doing that here in San Antonio and that will help those people who deploy. They'll already be used to working with other services on a regular basis."

Still, the changes have brought up questions, many of those by military retirees.

"A lot of us are concerned about this move because it means having to drive further," said retired Col. Harold Ponder, a resident at the Air Force Village retirement community. "Many of us live near WHMC to be close to where we receive our medical care."

General Travis recognizes this concern, but is confident it will not pose a long-term problem.

"I understand where they are coming from," he said. "But this move really won't impact their lives all that much."

For one, the only services moving are in-patient care and the emergency room. WHMC's clinical services will remain at the same location.

"This is actually good for the retiree community, because 90 percent of their care is clinical, not surgical," General Travis said. "Some of their clinics will be closer once the move is complete."

Many concerns have come from misinformation, such as rumors that WHMC is closing. To combat this problem, the general says communication is the answer.

Colonel Ponder agrees, he said.

"For many of us, it's just the not knowing that makes us worry," the colonel said. "It's hard to accept change."

This is one change that is good, General Travis said.

"SAMMC is a great thing for patients and military medical professionals in the San Antonio area," he said.