Monday, January 26, 2009

Travis' jewel hits 20 years

Travis' jewel hits 20 years
Hospital has vital role locally, worldly
By Brian Hamlin
Posted: 01/25/2009 07:43:00 AM PST

Assistant Surgeon General, Maj. General (Dr.) Thomas J. Loftus (left) and Staff Physician, Maj. Charles Mahakian, talk Friday inside the Air Medical Staging Facility at David Grant Medical Center on Travis Air Force Base. (Rick Roach / The Reporter)

With nearly 2,500 staff members and a constantly changing patient population, the 55-acre David Grant Medical Center site at Travis Air Force Base is like a city-within-a-city - a city that never sleeps.

Located just a short distance from the base's main gate, the center not only handles all the medical and dental needs of personnel at the bustling Air Force base but it also serves military beneficiaries throughout eight Western states, providing care to the combat-wounded and offering medical support worldwide during times of natural disaster.

The multifaceted medical center's vital role is being recognized during its 20th anniversary celebration this month. Festivities included a VIP tour for former medical center commanders and personnel on Friday afternoon, followed by a ball at the base's Delta Breeze Club Friday night.

Ret. Maj. Gen. Vernon Chong the former and final commander of the old David Grant Medical Center visits with reporters at David Grant Medical Center on Friday. (Rick Roach / The Reporter)

The sprawling medical facility opened its doors in 1988, succeeding the old David Grant Medical Center that was built in 1947, known for decades as "the hospital on the hill."

Retired Maj. Gen. Vernon Chong, the last commander of the old hospital, said he was gratified to see the progress made at the new medical center.

He described the old hospital as a challenge to operate, with open bay wards, mass restroom facilities, scattered two- and three-patient rooms and a detached emergency room that wasn't actually part of the main medical center structure.

"I was glad when this was finally built," Chong said.

And there was a time, he recalled, that it almost wasn't built.

During the 1970s, he said, the Air Force was considering downgrading the Travis hospital to a smaller, community-type medical center without the many specialties David Grant Medical Center now offers.

Fortunately, Chong said, former U.S. Rep. Vic Fazio, the mayors of nearby cities, state legislators and neighboring community activists joined forces to rally behind the building of the new medical center.

"There was a lot of lobbying going on for a new hospital," Chong explained.

When the dust cleared, Travis had a $193 million, state-of-the-art military medical center.

The center - named after the late Maj. Gen. David N.V. Grant, first air surgeon for the United States Army Air Forces during World War II - handles roughly 1,306 outpatient visits a day as well as 167 dental appointments and 13 admissions.

Speaking during Friday's tour, current 60th Medical Group commander and physician Col. Lee Payne pointed out that medical center statistics indicated the hospital also averaged 1.4 babies delivered daily during 2008, up from 1.2 babies delivered the previous year.

The center also provides an emergency room, cancer center, family practice medicine and ophthalmology as well as a sleep center, thoracic surgery and magnetic resonance imaging.

Medical center personnel, Payne said, regularly travel the globe to support military and humanitarian missions, with 120 medics deployed every six months to overseas combat zones.

The center also serves as a training ground for graduate medical students, and cooperates with the University of California, Davis, Medical Center in Sacramento to provide hands-on educational opportunities for personnel.

"We want current, competent, well-trained medics," Payne said. "Across this organization, there's training going on every day."

The medical center also serves as a midpoint for those wounded in combat. Injured soldiers, after being cared for and stabilized at East Coast medical facilities, are flown to Travis before being transferred to more long-term facilities and clinics, such as the Palo Alto Veterans Administration hospital.

Also operating from David Grant are Air Force Critical Care Air Transport groups. According to physician Maj. Charles Mahakian, the unit consists of three-member medical teams trained to turn a transport aircraft into a flying critical care unit to get seriously injured military service members safely out of a combat zone for advanced life-saving care.

Five such advanced medical teams operate from Travis.

David Grant Medical Center also boasts a multi-patient hyperbaric chamber. A critical tool in dealing with decompression sickness experienced by high-altitude pilots as well as divers, the chamber can handle as many as 18 patients. It's also used in the treatment of carbon monoxide poisoning and diabetic wound care.