Military hospital commanders warned lawmakers on Wednesday against making drastic changes to a military health care system that allows a large degree of flexibility in training doctors and nurses.
The witnesses acknowledged their hospitals could serve patients in a more timely manner, but said they are looking at innovative solutions to improve care, reported Military Times.
“I would urge caution before we begin entertaining thoughts of changing the system. It works pretty well. Could it be better? Absolutely. Do we have to have better access? Absolutely,” said Army Col. Mike Place, commander of Madigan Army Medical Center, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash.
The hearing before the House Armed Services’ Military Personnel Subcommittee came as lawmakers consider overhauling the defense health system.
In his opening statement, Subcommittee Chairman Joe Heck (R-Nev.) asked what the future holds for military treatment facilities (MTFs).
“How do they maintain the primary mission of readiness of the force and ready medical professionals? Are MTFs currently situated to support the readiness mission along with the mission to provide care to their beneficiaries?” Heck asked.
The role of MTFs has changed dramatically over the past several decades, with many installations no longer having a full service medical facility. Today, the services’ medical commands operate 55 hospitals and 360 clinics for a total of 415 MTFs, Heck said. In 1989, though, there were 168 military hospitals and hundreds of clinics, totaling more than 500 military medical facilities worldwide.
Many of the changes have come as military health care has shifted from an inpatient focus to outpatient settings. Realignment of military missions and base closures also have forced medical care to evolve.
Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-N.J.) asked about integrating the three military medical commands into one unified command, a recommendation broached by the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission.
“You each oversee facilities within the individual branches of the Defense Department. I’m interested to see whether that matters or whether all health care facilities could be managed together,” MacArthur asked.
The witnesses said that the color of a patient’s or a colleague’s uniform doesn’t matter to health care providers. But each service’s particular medical requirements should not be discounted, said Navy Capt. Rick Freedman, commander of Naval Hospital Camp Lejeune, N.C.
“There are service-specific things, and this important part of the readiness mission cannot be overstated. We are an embedded Navy-Marine Corps team. We have to be trusted partners in leadership,” Freedman said, according to the story.
A webcast of the hearing is available on the committee website.