Air Force medical staff to train at city hospital

Shock Trauma offers opportunity to treat wartime-like wounds

October 02, 2001|By Jonathan Bor | Jonathan Bor,SUN STAFF

Lacking experience in battlefield injuries, doctors and nurses with the Air Force will soon train at a Baltimore hospital where the caseload is sadly similar to that seen in combat.

Under an agreement signed Friday, the Air Force will start sending medical teams to Maryland Shock Trauma Center next month.

There the teams will quickly gain experience treating open wounds, multiple fractures and head injuries -- much like the injuries they would see if deployed to makeshift hospitals near a battlefront.

"When you look at some of the weaponry on the streets of the U.S., it's not so different from military weapons," said Dr. Thomas Scalea, physician in chief of Shock Trauma.

Lt. Col. Tyler Putnam, who will command the Air Force program, said yesterday the Air Force has a pool of trauma-trained doctors and nurses who can be deployed if combat breaks out in the next several weeks.

They have been trained at an Air Force hospital in San Antonio -- the only trauma center in that branch of the military -- and at Baylor University's Ben Taub Hospital in Houston, which recently ended a military training program.

"We don't expect this, unfortunately, to be a short-term problem," said Putnam, a native of Beltsville who trained at Shock Trauma. "We're going to be training 10 teams a year at Shock Trauma over a period of several years."

The Air Force plans to open several more training programs throughout the country, but Shock Trauma will serve as the flagship.

University Medical Center and University of Maryland School of Medicine had been negotiating with the Air Force for several months, but the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 brought a new sense of urgency to the issue.

"It refocused everybody's attention when the World Trade Center fell," Scalea said. "It became very real. This was no longer a theoretical discussion."

Because the nation has been at peace, military doctors have functioned much like community physicians -- treating everything from flu to cancer and gallbladder disease.

"They realized there were issues of preparedness," said Dr. Frank Calia, vice dean for research at University of Maryland School of Medicine. "They have superb surgeons, but they don't see the volume of clinical cases that we do."

A congressional study in 1995 found that about 5 percent of the cases military surgeons encounter during peacetime match what they would see in a war.

Air Force doctors and nurses will not only treat severe injuries, they will learn the art of triage -- how to separate critical cases from less critical ones, and to organize personnel around different levels of care.

The Air Force will maintain a permanent core of doctors, nurses and technicians at Shock Trauma -- about 13 people in all -- who will be given faculty positions and engage in treatment and research.

In addition, about a dozen Air Force physicians and surgeons and a larger number of nurses and technicians will rotate through Shock Trauma each month. By the end of their rotations, these groups will be ready for deployment wherever they are needed.

The Air Force, said Putnam, is prepared to set up 25- to 100-bed hospitals in tents near a scene of battle. Equipment can be flown to such sites and set up within 12 to 24 hours.

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