Assistant Secretary of Defense Visits Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center
HOUSTON - Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs S. Ward Casscells, III, M.D., visited the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center (MEDVAMC) on April 25, 2007 to tour the facility and learn about the medical center’s research program, computerized patient record system, quality of care initiatives, and services for returning veterans.
In his position as assistant secretary, Casscells is responsible for overall leadership of the Military Health System, serves as the principal advisor to the secretary of defense for all Department of Defense (DoD) health policies and programs, and oversees all DoD health resources. Prior to his appointment, Casscells was a distinguished professor and vice president of biotechnology at the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston and director of clinical research at the Texas Heart Institute. A colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve, he was deployed to Iraq in 2006 as the liaison from Multinational Force-Iraq to Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad.
Escorted by MEDVAMC Director Edgar L. Tucker and Michael E. DeBakey, M.D., Baylor College of Medicine’s Chancellor Emeritus and internationally known as the father of modern cardiovascular surgery, the assistant secretary toured the MEDVAMC’s state-of-the-art hybrid surgical suite, cutting-edge cardiac intervention laboratory, 14,000 square foot Cancer Center, and Fisher House.
Suffering an elbow injury in Iraq when the Humvee he was riding in swerved to avoid an improvised-explosive-device tripwire, Casscells has said he will bring a patient’s perspective to his job. Recent combat in Iraq and Afghanistan has demonstrated the nature of modern warfare has changed. There are new causes of injury, improvements in body armor, and surgical stabilization at the front-line of combat.
In March 2006, the MEDVAMC added an extremely important and timely program to its array of available health care services, a Polytrauma Network Center to care for returning war-wounded with complex, multiple injuries such as amputations, traumatic brain injuries, and psychological adjustment problems. A combat veteran’s first contact with the MEDVAMC consists of two screenings: 1) a medical appointment with a general practitioner in a Primary Care Clinic; and 2) an appointment with a mental health professional to be checked for symptoms of a variety of mental health complaints including depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety disorder, substance abuse/dependence, and adjustment disorder.
The MEDVAMC is also expanding outreach efforts to military units in southeast Texas. The Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF)/Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) coordinator, along with health care professionals from the Mental Health Care Line, proactively meet with local Reserve and National Guard Units before and after they deploy in order to brief them about available VA benefits, placing special emphasis on mental health screening and counseling. Staff members regularly attend meetings of various community and veterans groups in an attempt to contact eligible veterans who have not yet enrolled for VA care.
Casscells has said he would continue, and accelerate, if possible, efforts to implement electronic medical records and other improvements to efficiency and accountability in DoD medical facilities.
The Computerized Patient Record System in place at the MEDVAMC allows offers health care providers a complete electronic record covering all aspects of patient care, including reminders for preventive health care, electronic entry of pharmaceutical orders, display of laboratory results, consultation requests, x-rays, and pathology slides. The importance of this system was demonstrated after Hurricane Katrina. Medical information for every New Orleans VA patient was available at any VA medical center and by any VA physician nationwide in a matter of three days.
The assistant secretary praised the MEDVAMC management, physicians, nurses, and staff members for the quality of care provided to our Nation’s veterans. “You have created a culture of quality improvement and caring here. I believe the Department of Defense can learn from the VA,” said Casscells. “It helps me enormously to be able to tell our soldiers they are going to a first-class health care system where people are held accountable.”
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