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Emergency department
Emergency physicians Majs. (Drs.) Annette Williams and Vikhyat Bebarta (right) discuss patient care while Airman 1st Class Casey Meed, medical technician, prepares to take the patient's vitals during a visit to the Wilford Hall Medical Center's Emergency Department April 16. All are assigned to the 59th Emergency Medical Squadron. Wilford Hall Medical Center's Emergency Department is the only level 1 trauma emergency department in the Air Force and provides trauma care to local military and communities and accepts trauma referrals from a 22-county region of Southwest Texas. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Kimberly A. Yearyean-Siers)
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WHMC emergency department more than meets the eye

Posted 4/22/2009   Updated 4/23/2009 Email story   Print story


by Master Sgt. Kimberly A. Yearyean-Siers
59th Medical Wing Public Affairs

4/22/2009 - LACKLAND AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- At first glance, Wilford Hall Medical Center's emergency department appears to be just another level one trauma center, treating patients from Lackland Air Force Base, San Antonio and the surrounding areas. Yet, much more is going on there than many people realize.

"The emergency department has a three-fold mission beyond the primary one of treating illness and injuries," said Col. (Dr.) James King, 59th Emergency Medical Squadron commander. "We are involved in research projects, education and training programs, and maintaining operational readiness with approximately 10 percent of the department supporting overseas contingency operations."

Research is being done in a wide variety of areas, including finding antidotes for cyanide poisoning, which is common in house fires and chemical explosions; the use of ultrasound to diagnose collapsed lungs during emergency care; and determining at what point in the treatment process is it most effective to administer medication into the bone marrow, a process known as an intraosseous infusion, to improve resuscitation and survival rates.

The 59th Emergency Medicine Squadron received more than $1.2 million in grants to support these research projects, which will affect treatments in many areas of medicine. 

"The outcomes of these research projects reach far beyond the realm of emergency medicine," said Lt. Col. (Dr.) Rob Thaxton, associate program director of the wing's emergency medicine residency program. "They will have applications, not only in clinical treatments, but will be used in the field to decrease war fighter mortality rates."

Other projects have a direct impact on patient care in the department, helping to improve access to care and educate patients.

"I saw people being frustrated by long waiting times in the emergency department," said Maj. (Dr.) Annette Williams, emergency medicine physician.

Major Williams researched department practices and her findings are being used to develop a process improvement project.

"I wanted people to know how much the ED cares and strives to give them the best care we are able," said Major Williams. "The research project also demonstrated that many patients felt they received the best care, even for non-urgent complaints in the ED."

Another priority of the emergency department is supporting the hospital's graduate medical education program. The department has 48 residents who regularly score among the highest in the country and the ED residency program recently received a five-year accreditation from the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education/Resident Review Committee for Emergency Medicine. This organization is responsible for certifying emergency medical programs across the country.

"For the first time in 30 years the emergency department has received the maximum 5-year accreditation," said Colonel Thaxton. "Without the hard work and commitment of the staff and residents, this would have never been possible."

Along with supporting the GME program for physicians, the emergency department is vital in conducting training for nurses and medical technicians.

As with all departments at WHMC, members of the 59th Emergency Medical Squadron are deployed throughout the world to include operations in both Iraq and Afghanistan, where the skills they learned in the ED are put to use.

"When I deployed, I saw first-hand how the doctors, nurses and medical technicians were able to treat the wounded without missing a beat," said Colonel King. "They were able to provide the highest quality of care and I believe a lot had to do with the opportunities and things they do every day in the WHMC emergency department."

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