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thedrifter
06-23-07, 06:40 PM
Va. hyperbaric chambers yet to treat patients
The Associated Press
Posted : Saturday Jun 23, 2007 14:29:10 EDT

PORTSMOUTH, Va. — Two hyperbaric chambers installed in 2000 at Portsmouth Naval Medical Center have yet to treat a single patient, because Congress did not provide funding to finish the project.

A 500-ton crane lowered the chambers into a specially designed center, and nearly $4 million was invested, The Virginian-Pilot reported last week. An estimated $9 million is needed to complete the job.

The hospital’s top official said he isn’t sure it’s worth the investment.

“I think there’s medical benefit in hyperbaric therapy for specific medical processes,” Rear Adm. Thomas Cullison said. “I’m not sure there’s $9 million worth of economic benefit for using the chambers as designed to get there.”

The steel chambers sit idle at the Charette Health Care Center, a wing completed in 1999 and intended for the chambers.

“Without question, to go that far in the construction of a very, very unique facility and not complete it is just senseless,” said former U.S. Rep. Owen Pickett, who helped secure money for the chambers’ construction.

U.S. Sen. John Warner has asked the Navy to reassess the unfinished project.

“We’re just asking them to take another look at that, in light of the passage time and the best care for returning veterans,” John Ullyot, Warner’s spokesman, told The Pilot. “We’re willing to work with them, should this be a priority of theirs.”

The Portsmouth center would be one of the largest in the nation. It could treat patients in wheelchairs and on gurneys, and even allow doctors to operate on critically ill patients in the larger chamber, a 20-foot sphere.

Hyperbaric medicine is perhaps most commonly recognized as a treatment for divers with decompression sickness, also called the bends.

For patients with chronic wounds and skin grafts, pressurized oxygen is used regularly to help them heal. Bones and tissue damaged from radiation in cancer treatment also benefit, and the treatment helps diabetic patients with wounds in their extremities avoid amputation.

Cullison, who has been in command of the hospital since late 2005, said he is in favor of bringing in a contractor to provide hyperbaric treatment in one or two portable chambers on hospital grounds. From those results, doctors could gauge whether it makes sense to finish the existing chambers.

“We’ve had them there for seven years now already,” Cullison said. “A couple, three more years of trying to figure this out in a more rational way is going to cost us less than taking them out and realizing it was a bad decision and trying to put them back.

“It would make more sense to me to just leave them there for now and work around them.”

Ellie