View Full Version : San Diego military hospital gives an inside look at outpatient care

03-13-07, 05:08 AM
San Diego military hospital gives an inside look at outpatient care
By Tony Perry, Times Staff Writer
March 13, 2007

SAN DIEGO — Marine Cpl. Travis Greene lost both legs to a roadside bomb explosion in Ramadi, Iraq, in December 2005.

After 11 months of critical care at several military hospitals, he arrived at the outpatient living area of Naval Medical Center San Diego last November.

Greene, 25, lives in Room 209 of the Bachelor Enlisted Quarters and undergoes hours of daily therapy at the medical center next door. Like all amputees, he faces the challenge of learning to use prosthetics and keeping his muscles from withering.

Just how long he will remain at the center is unpredictable. But his goals are firm: He wants to return to Idaho, resume his studies at Boise State University and someday become a high school government teacher and track coach.

"I want to become myself again," he said Monday during an open house arranged for reporters who had asked to view the outpatient barracks in the wake of the shoddy conditions revealed at Building 18 at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C.

The words "Walter Reed" were never mentioned by the Navy and Marine Corps personnel talking to reporters and giving tours. But the subtext of the open house was clear: to try to show that conditions at the San Diego center are a world away from those at Building 18.

Rear Adm. Christine S. Hunter, commander of Naval Medical Center San Diego, said she asks herself daily: "How can we serve this population of heroes?" At present, she said, the medical center is upgrading its program for amputees.

The center's "medical hold" area is on the second floor of the six-story Bachelor Enlisted Quarters, where enlisted personnel who work at the center also live. Many of the "med-hold" residents have been wounded in Iraq, but some have been hurt while on duty in the United States or in off-duty accidents.

Navy Seaman Marc Anthony Hoffmaster, 19, is just weeks away from rejoining his ship. He broke an ankle when he fell down a ladder aboard the amphibious assault ship Peleliu.

While he was being treated at the medical center, doctors found a congenital heart problem that had to be corrected.

"I never knew I had it," he said.

The Bachelor Enlisted Quarters has space for 128 outpatients, most in two-person rooms with bathrooms and small kitchens. The rooms are clean and sunny. Telephones are being installed. Staff is available 24 hours a day, reporters were told.

A recreation room with a pool table and TV, and a movie theater are available to both med-hold residents and Navy personnel who work at the center and live in the quarters. A chow hall is nearby. Golf carts help residents get to their therapy appointments at the center.

The average sailor stays 33 days, the average Marine about seven months, officials said. Many of the latter suffered injuries from improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, the "signature" injury of the war in Iraq.

Both groups are required to show up for a morning roll call.

"They keep us busy," Hoffmaster said.

On Monday, there were 56 Marines in med-hold.

The Marines have a major and six enlisted personnel assigned to the barracks to make sure Marines keep their therapy appointments and to help them and their family members navigate the complexities of a medical system that includes the military, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and private hospitals and clinics.

Marines are also on hand to answer questions from the outpatient residents, including inquiries about their friends still in Iraq.

"Their buddies were usually in the same firefight or IED that they were," said Maj. Paola Hayes. "It's usually their first concern."