Personal Health

Military medical staff join hospital front lines in new collaboration

Active military medical staff from Scott Air Force Base are keeping their skills sharp through a new collaboration with Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and Barnes-Jewish Hospital.

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

“We value the opportunity to help these medical professionals maintain their state of readiness, and their presence has already been invaluable to our team,” said Gene Ridolfi, BJH’s executive director of 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 I 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,” said Lt. Col. Suzanne E.W. See, 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 said. “This essential partnership allows our team members the ability to hone and maintain the necessary critical care skills to execute this lifesaving 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 front lines of taking care of our troops in the field,” Adeoye said. “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.”

Tech. Sgt. Cheryl Kuntz, a respiratory therapist who is 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,” said Kuntz, adding that she needs a specific number of hours working with critical patients to retain her certification.

“I see more patients on ventilators in a day at Barnes-Jewish than I see in a year working in a military medical facility,” she said. “I’ve had the opportunity to work directly with the hospital’s COVID-19 patients, but it’s just an honor to take care of any patient, soldier or whomever needs help, regardless of the environment.”

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