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NEWS | July 8, 2013

Supplying surgical services: MCAHC's renovated operating rooms provide new capabilities

By Airman 1st Class Austin Harvill 633rd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

Approximately 1,500 surgeries were performed at Fort Eustis, Va., in 2012. This year, the McDonald Army Health Center plans to perform another 2,000 - and that's the lowest estimate.

After opening in June, the new operating rooms at MCAHC have given medical professionals new patient care capabilities, faster recovery times and additional services.

"We spent $5.5 million renovating the whole second floor of the health center," said U.S. Army Maj. Anissa Buckley, nursing and patient support services assistant deputy commander. "As well as updating other surgical clinics on the floor, we acquired two state-of-the-art operating rooms."

The health center originally housed three operating rooms, but new technology prompted the creation of new facilities. During renovations, the OR closed two of the three rooms, leaving only one room for the entire section.

Buckley arrived at MCAHC prior to the beginning of renovations and explained how the OR's capabilities have improved.

"Before the renovations, rooms were antiquated, to say the least," said Buckley. "We were working with portable surgical towers, which were more difficult to see the surgical area adequately."

While Buckley said patients received quality care before, she and her colleague, U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Jose Prieto, noncommissioned officer in charge of the OR, agreed patients' waiting times were too long.

"We performed 1,500 operations in 2012, which is equivalent to approximately seven surgical procedures per day," said Prieto. "Now, we see around 10 patients per day, and we plan to exceed the goal of 2,000 operations for 2013, even though we've only had the new OR since the beginning of June."

The major reason for this increase is the opening of two operating rooms as opposed to one. Seven specialties utilize the OR: ophthalmology, podiatry, orthopedics, dental, ear-nose-throat (ENT), general surgery and women's health. With so many specialties clamoring to use one room and with variations of time for surgery for each service, the OR was constantly filled, adding to patients' waiting times. According to Buckley, once two rooms became available, the wait time dropped dramatically.

Additionally, equipment plays a major role in the efficiency and ease surgeons experience in the OR. Both rooms have built-in surgical suites to make the patients more comfortable and to allow more space for the surgical team. High-definition, flat-screen monitors provide the doctors a clearer view of the surgical area, and allow for quick assessments of surgical complications.

Finally, the material service component of the hospital acquired better, quicker cleaning capabilities when the second floor was renovated. New sterilizers and surgical washers clean equipment faster so doctors never have to wait on surgical instruments to begin an operation.

After all of these new additions to the work area, Buckley still believes patient care is the most important reason behind the updates.

"All this new equipment makes my job easier, but the fact that our patients have quality care is what matters at the end of the day," said Buckley. "Since the new OR was created, we have fewer complaints from our patients, and the surgical wait time has been decreased."

Brian Bowen, an OR patient, recognized the improved care provided by the OR team.

"Even though this is a small facility, the staff members function like it's a major hospital," said Bowen. "They are very professional, and the second you walk in the building, you immediately receive one-on-one service."

The perioperative team at MCAHC expects an increase in its number of surgical cases. Buckley looks forward to a new surgeon joining her staff, which will enable the OR to provide additional surgical procedures. The new doctor is an ENT surgeon with a fellowship in plastic surgery. Surgical procedures that he will perform include laser tattoo removal, ear-pinning for children and facial plastic surgery.

With a new surgeon, new equipment, new facilities and a seasoned surgical staff, Buckley and Prieto have more than just a new workspace; they have the opportunity to provide better care to the Fort Eustis community.