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From military front lines to hospital front lines

Barnes-Jewish, Washington University School of Medicine collaboration with U.S. Air Force supports deployment readiness for medical professionals

  • January 21, 2022
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Active military medical staff from Scott Air Force Base are keeping their skills sharp through a new collaboration with Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine.

Between deployments, Air Force personnel from the base’s Critical Care Air Transport Team – including physicians, nurses and respiratory therapists – will have the unique opportunity to work alongside Barnes-Jewish Hospital staff and Washington University physicians on a full-time basis. There are currently seven staff members participating in the program, which coordinators believe could grow to about 100 staff members and include other BJC hospitals.

Scott Air Force Base medical personnel staffed at Barnes-Jewish Hospital pose near the surgical/burn/trauma ICU with hospital leaders.

“We value the opportunity to help these medical professionals maintain their state of readiness, and their presence has already been invaluable to our team,” says Gene Ridolfi, MHA, RN, executive director, Heart & Vascular Services, who helped develop this partnership. “Our new Air Force colleagues will be exposed to the challenging and rewarding environment of a Level 1 Trauma Center, and we’ll learn about the military’s approach to providing care.”

Air Force personnel will work as embedded staff at Barnes-Jewish, providing them the opportunity to work with the type of high acuity and critically ill patients they will experience during a deployment. Air Force staff who are currently part of the program are primarily placed in the Emergency Department and intensive care units but eventually will work in other areas of the hospital.

“There are limited opportunities for Air Force personnel to actively apply their skills when not deployed, because the majority of our military treatment facilities do not provide the necessary exposure to critically ill patients,” says Lt. Col. Suzanne See, MSN, RN, director of operations for the CCATT Embedment Unit.

“As members of the Air Force’s Critical Care Air Transport Team we are responsible for providing care for the sickest patients at 30,000 feet," See says. “This essential partnership allows our team members the ability to hone and maintain the necessary critical care skills to execute this life saving mission.”

Opeolu Adeoye, MD, head of the Department of Emergency Medicine at Washington University, also recognizes the value of this new, collaborative relationship.

“Medical professionals in the Air Force are on the frontlines of taking care of our troops in the field,” Dr. Adeoye says. “We’re proud to be part of a program that helps these men and women be prepared for the high-intensity scenarios they can encounter when deployed.”

Scott Air Force Base medical personnel staffed at Barnes-Jewish Hospital pose near the surgical/burn/trauma ICU with hospital leaders.

Technical Sgt. Cheryl Kuntz, RRT, consults with Jeff Pepin, MD, clinical fellow: left, and Heidi Hegeman, BSN, RN, on the 4400 ICU at Barnes-Jewish Hospital.

Technical Sergeant Cheryl Kuntz, RRT, a respiratory therapist who was the first Air Force staff member to serve at Barnes-Jewish under this program, has previously deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan, Germany and Africa, where she staffed critical care units aboard military aircraft. But, between deployments, she often worked in outpatient Air Force facilities in the U.S., where her critical care skills were not highly utilized.

“With the limited number of military hospitals in the United States, opportunities are limited for medical specialists,” says Kuntz, adding that she needs a specific number of hours working with critical patients to retain her certification.

“I see more patient on ventilators in a day at Barnes-Jewish than I see in a year working in a military medical facility,” she says. “I’ve had the opportunity to work directly with the hospital’s COVID patients, but it’s just an honor to take care of any patient, soldier or whoever needs help, regardless of the environment.”

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