Col. Eric Edwards, Fort Carson, deployment, medical personnel, surgeons, physicians, nurses, medics, UCHealth, Ron Fitch, Evans Army Community Hospital, UCHealth Memorial, Level 1 Trauma Center, emergency medicine, soldiers, military-civilian partnership, combat medicine, military surgeons, Air Force, Army, military.

Editor’s note: This is the first in a three-part series examining partnerships between the military and the civilian business sector.

Fort Carson surgeons, physicians, nurses and medics are heading off post to boost their preparation for combat medical care, in a new partnership between Evans Army Community Hospital and UCHealth Memorial Hospital.

The two hospitals signed a memorandum of agreement last month, which will see Evans Army medical personnel spending six-week rotations at UCHealth, treating trauma, life-threatening injuries and complex medical cases alongside their civilian counterparts.

The first Evans Army nurse completed the pilot rotation April 5.

It’s critical for military surgeons and medical personnel to be experts in treating severely battle-injured patients in a trauma environment — but at military treatment facilities like Evans, they’re usually seeing young, relatively healthy soldiers and their families.

It’s not a setting that helps medical personnel stay prepared for combat challenges, Evans Army Community Hospital commander Col. Eric Edwards said. And it means UCHealth Memorial’s designation as a Level 1 Trauma Center is key to the partnership.

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“We just don’t have the level of acuity you would normally want to see [to maintain skills for combat medical care] here at Evans, because we’re not a trauma center,” Edwards said. “So what we’re doing with UCHealth is getting after the platform to ensure that our critical care nurses, emergency nurses, internists, general surgeons and orthopedic surgeons are seeing the type of injuries, to the best that we can replicate, that they might see downrange. …

“Great examples would be severe burns, blunt trauma, severe bleeding, airway obstruction — just a number of items that you’re not going to see brought to our facility. They’re brought to UCHealth for almost all, or the greater part of, Colorado Springs.”

Evans Army Community Hospital medical personnel will spend six-week rotations at UCHealth Memorial Hospital, treating trauma, life-threatening injuries and complex medical cases alongside their civilian counterparts.

A 2016 study published in the journal Military Medicine found that military surgeons embedded in a civilian trauma center treated nearly six times more cases than surgeons in a nearby military facility.

“As the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan draws down, the opportunity for military surgeons to treat the severely battle injured will evaporate,” the researchers wrote, concluding that “embedding surgeons into a civilian institution allows them to maintain skill sets critical for currency and wartime readiness.”

Edwards said placing emphasis on “getting more repetitions and volume in garrison — versus the deployed environment — is exactly what you want.

“That’s exactly what our nation expects. They expect the level of proficiency commensurate with the cause or the challenge ahead — and we can’t use the deployed environment as a training environment. So we want to see more; we want folks to be the experts in their craft.”

TRAUMA EXPERIENCE

Even Fort Carson’s sophisticated medical simulation centers can’t provide the same experience as a Level 1 Trauma Center, Edwards said.

“There’s only so much you can simulate given the technology that we’ve got available,” he said. “And there’s no better way than to have a shared learning experience where you’ve got the trauma experience that UCHealth has to offer, where our folks are working side by side or shadowing one another on real cases.

“It’s providing a platform from which to build the repetitions that we would expect of them in combat,” he added. “Our partnership with UCHealth Memorial allows us an opportunity to get after this locally.”

Ron Fitch, vice president of Operations and Military Affairs for UCHealth Memorial, said the new program is a way for the whole UCHealth system to “reach out and engage better” with the military community.

“The benefit is really just about taking care of the community that surrounds us, and protects us every day while they are out there deployed,” he said.

“From the Memorial side, we have so many veterans in the [UCHealth] workforce — they’re very excited to be able to give back and give an opportunity that they weren’t able to get while they were in the service,” he added, “so that they could have been better prepared to deploy.”

Another benefit, Fitch said, is that the forward surgical teams that would typically go interstate for training before they deploy can now potentially stay here in the Springs to train.

“You get that added benefit of being able to go home at night and get more family time — something that’s certainly a priority between deployments,” he said. “And now you don’t have to spend the money to send someone away to train. Before, Special Forces medics would routinely go to another city for about a month [to train]. That’s a significant time away from home when you’re deployed as much as they are.”

Fitch said the pilot rotation went “really well,” based on feedback from UCHealth’s internal review. “All of [the nurse’s] outbriefs went well and she got a great experience while she was here — again, much more, unfortunately, than she would see just based on the patient population on Fort Carson,” he said.

NEXT STEPS

Fitch said the program is starting small, and UCHealth will review the pilot rotation with Evans Army Community Hospital leadership to improve and solidify processes.

Edwards said the next step is to start internists, general surgeons, orthopedic surgeons and medics on rotations, and eventually to broaden the scope so a forward resuscitative surgical team and 18D Special Forces medics can undertake collective training.

“Then the pipe dream is that we don’t just make this an Army thing,” he said. “As our Air Force partners here in Colorado Springs see this, [the goal] is to get the United States Air Force Academy on board so that we can really have joint-level individual and collective training tasks met.”

Army and Air Force medical personnel increasingly are working together in the field, and even in military treatment facilities.

“We’re moving from really what has been a shared service construct, to integrated services,” Edwards said. “That requires a lot of interoperability. Fortunately, for us, we do things in a deployed environment much better than what we do in a garrison environment. We’re already working hand in hand downrange; we’re just not effectively leveraging our partnership here locally.”

REAL WORLD EVENTS

The Evans Army/UCHealth partnership is a fine example of a “true civil-military relationship,” Edwards said. And, just as importantly, it’s about building a contingency plan for other real world events.

“I’ll use an example: Year after year, we work with UCHealth Memorial, and Penrose, and other local activities to get after these things called full scale exercises, where we are reacting to natural disaster or something else that has a dramatic impact,” he said. “This right here will foster and build that relationship that is needed to be able to respond to those key events.”

Edwards said the response from Evans Army personnel had been very positive.

“I would say that there’s a line of folks that are waiting for their first opportunity,” he said. “We just want to make sure we have all the plans in place and conditions met to ensure that we’re truly working to task, versus just being another labor pool. Because it’s important that we see the kind of cases that we want to prepare for downrange.

“This is a start,” he added, “and for all the men and women of Evans Army Community Hospital, we’re very excited about the way ahead.”