By Senior Airman Christie Putz, 375th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
/ Published February 14, 2008
SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill. -- As one of three aeromedical evacuation distribution hubs in the nation, servicemembers from Scott Air Force Base's Aeromedical Staging Facility play a vital role in the Air Force's AE mission, which moves more than 12,000 patients yearly.
"Our mission is two-fold," said Lt. Col. Terry Prizer, 375th ASF flight commander. "We transfer patients from aircraft to aircraft as well as bring patients back to continue their medical care overnight while they wait for their departing flights."
Scott services all of middle America. The other two facilities are located on either coast at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., and Travis AFB, Calif.
"The first stop in the U.S. for patients coming in from combat zones is typically Andrews," said Colonel Prizer. Those waiting to reach their final destinations on or near the east coast remain at Andrews, while the others start their journey westward to Scott.
After arriving at Scott, the mission then continues with those heading to the west coast. The deplaning passengers are either immediately transferred onto another flight to their final destinations or are transported back to the ASF for overnight care.
"When the patients get here we do a review of their medical records, record their vital signs, administer any medications needed or provide any care that is necessary for their conditions," said 2nd Lt. Leonard McNeely, 375th ASF charge nurse and mission officer in charge.
With missions coming in three days per week, the ASF team keeps busy. Not including patients transferred onto other aircraft for immediate transportation to their homestations or hospitals, they can be credited with caring for an average of 500 overnight patients in any 12-month period.
The majority of patients are wounded military returning from combat zones. Since the beginning of Operations Enduring and Iraqi Freedom, more than 6,900 injured servicemembers have been moved by the Scott ASF, with more than 2,500 staying overnight.
"There is a complex range in the severity of injuries that we see," said Colonel Prizer. "Some have obvious external injuries, while others you wouldn't be able to tell just by looking at them."
Those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder is one example.
"It is a subject that a lot of people don't like to talk about, but the effects are real," the colonel said. "We help them get to their destination where they can receive rehabilitative care."
More commonly, however, are fractures, burns and other injuries sustained by combat-related accidents.
After an improvised explosive device exploded under his vehicle during a routine route clearance mission in Mosul, Iraq, Army Spec. Michael Duer was thrown more than 15 feet from his position as turret gunner.
"I haven't seen my actual medical records, but from what I understand I have four or five fractured ribs where they meet the spine, two or three of my vertebrae have compression fractures and my jaw is fractured," he said.
His accident happened Feb. 6. He was back to his homestation and wife in Colorado just four days later.
However, more than just combat wounded patients pass through the facility. Deployed servicemembers injured while off duty, some stateside members needing transport to other medical facilities or terminally ill patients are all also candidates for aeromedical evacuation.
Helping Airmen, Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and civilians return home after being wounded in combat is the mission of ASF, but keeping them comfortable while accomplishing this is possibly what they do best.
With 17 patient rooms designed to hold up to 40 patients at maximum capacity, the staff wanted a way to make their guests feel more at home. Out of that desire, the 'Adopt a Room' program was born.
"The project started about two years ago with three generals' wives each adopting a room," said Colonel Prizer. "Since then, it has taken off and all of our patient rooms are currently under adoption."
Through the program, formal organizations are able to submit a plan for suggested improvements consisting of painting, pictures and wall-hangings, bedspreads and other personal touches to either patient rooms or several common areas.
"Our goal is to try and remove the sterile, hospital environment and make it more comfortable for our patients," she said.
The organizations are responsible for raising their own funds and are given 14 days to complete their projects. In addition to each room having its own theme, plaques adorn the doors with welcoming words for returning servicemembers from the sponsoring organizations.
"This is by far the nicest hospital I've been to," said Specialist Duer. "It's more like a hotel room than a hospital, with the nightstands and art on the walls."
Other servicemembers who have passed through the Scott ASF share these sentiments, as evidenced by a board in the hallway crowded with positive quotes from patients.
Common areas boast big-screen televisions, a pool table, faux fireplace, couches, Internet café, small library, snack room and a clothing and toiletry room.
Other improvements to the facility include the addition of suction and oxygen capabilities to selected rooms, as well as an outdoor patio awning to shield patients from the elements.
"All these improvements really go beyond providing physical comfort for the patients, it also provides a sense of emotional comfort," said Colonel Prizer.
In addition to the Adopt a Room program, the local community has also reached out to Scott's ASF patients in other ways.
One large contributor, the USO, partners with the ASF on a greeter program and pet therapy, as well as stocking the snack room and clothing and toiletry room for the returning servicemembers.
Additionally, they donated DVD players and gaming machines for each of the rooms.
"The outpouring of support has been wonderful," said Colonel Prizer. "The community wants to help support our men and women fighting in the war, and this is one way they can do that."
Donations are welcomed by any individual or organization that wishes to welcome returning heroes and provide needed items.
"We want our patients to know that we are truly here for them," the colonel added. "Sometimes that means going beyond providing the best medical care possible.