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Medical Group earns top honors

EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- "...I feel it absolutely necessary to tell one and all that we in this area are among the extremely fortunate to have the finest medical facility anywhere. I speak of the base hospital at Eglin Air Force Base."* 

An unsolicited letter to the editor of the local newspaper recently affirmed what the Air Force already knows; the 96th Medical Group operated the No. 1 military treatment facility in 2006. 

Col. Tama Van Decar, 96th Medical Group commander, recognizes the honor the Air Force Surgeon General bestowed on the group and cites quality customer service, excellent patient care, respect for the integrity of their business plan and a combat medical readiness mission as reasons why she thinks the group stood out from the other nominees. 

"It all rolls up; it's the whole package deal that culminates in this recognition for being the best," she said. "You don't get this award for pockets of excellence; it shows a complete effort." 

"I am thoroughly impressed with the care and professionalism of all the personnel there, both active-duty and civilian. I have never encountered a single employee who was rude, slow or incompetent."* 

Colonel Van Decar stressed the combination of the caliber of the people working at the hospital and the 96th Air Base Wing's support as key to their success. 

"This is a people award and it starts with the airman who greets you at the front door and the captain physician who takes care of you, they earned this," the colonel said. "It's directly attributed to the hard work of every single one of the 1,400 people who work here, active duty and civilians alike." 

Colonel Van Decar said Eglin's MTF is in a unique position; while similar facilities are struggling to maintain or are drawing down services, their MTF's readiness mission is stepping up and the number of beneficiaries served is increasing which means continued funding to service the military community. That echoes Major Gen. (Dr.) Charles Green, the deputy Air Force surgeon general's thoughts about the MTF's future when he visited here in October 2006. 

"Over the next couple of years, I see an increase in both dollars and people, and the people to staff some gaining specialties," General Green said. "We've put aside between $30 to $40 million in additional funding per year to make sure they have everything they need to take care of the population and the mission." 

Serving more than 231,000 outpatients, filling more than 700,000 prescriptions and completing 340,000 laboratory tests are just some of the mind-boggling statistics the facility generates each year. The Joint Commission of Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations surveyors credited the MTF as being the best seen in their 29 years. 

The group garnered 27 command-level annual awards and was singled out for numerous best practices by command's inspector general. All this was accomplished while the hospital was undergoing a multi-year, multi-million dollar construction upgrade and deploying 1,900 personnel. Colonel Van Decar emphasized the need to make deployments and peacetime care a cohesive package. 

"They were almost conflicting with each other; that's not how we view it here and it's not where we're working toward in the AF," the colonel said. "We are one of six bases moving into a constant deployment model to the point that we constantly expect people to be deployed during each 4 month AEF pair for the entire 20-month cycle." 

Colonel Van Decar said the facility maintains peacetime heath care with the core group of people who are here and deployments are a planned part of the active-duty personnel's assignment here "so the patients and practitioners can adjust to a steady state of deploying instead of flow and ebb of current deployment practice. 

"What we are building towards is an idea of peacetime healthcare and medical readinesss that are no longer in conflict with one another, they are seen as complimentary parts of AFMS," she said. "They do benefit each other in direct way; our patient care at home gives us the skill to go out and practice wartime medicine; the wartime mission seals for us the real meaning of why we're in the military and rededicates us to the purpose of serving our patients." 

Colonel Van Decar sees a bright future for Eglin's MTF including new programs and technologies to improve patient care. Eglin is often a test base for new initiatives within the medical community, many of which are now benchmarks for other facilities, and the colonel knows why. 

"We will accept the challenge, we will explore it; they give it to us to try because we will find all the ways to make it work because the competency of this group has proven itself," Colonel Van Decar said. "Our real vision is to become a center medical excellence; we are not even close to being done with all the exciting changes we have here and it will all make patient care better." 

If Eglin hasn't been picked as the top medical facility in the Air Force, then such an honor is long overdue.* 

*NW Fla. Daily News, March 8, 2007