BREMERTON — Naval Hospital Bremerton’s emergency room soon will be converted to urgent care, but few patients will be affected.
Only those in danger of losing life, limb or sight if not treated immediately will be taken to Harrison Medical Center or another community hospital, beginning Oct. 1. Emergencies include difficulty breathing, suspected heart attack, uncontrolled bleeding, unconsciousness and severe burns.
Tricare, the military’s health care program, will pay for a Harrison emergency visit, provided patients contact their primary care manager within 24 hours or the next business day.
Treatment for sailors, dependents and retirees for any other medical problem will continue to be available 24 hours a day at Naval Hospital’s new urgent care center. Urgent care is for unexpected illness or injury that needs prompt attention but isn’t an immediate threat to health, such as headaches, back or joint pain, flu symptoms or earaches. Patients don’t need an appointment.
The conversion is in response to patient trends. Only 3 percent of patients were treated for emergencies. An urgent care center can address a wider spectrum of ailments.
Naval Hospital Bremerton kicked off a series of changes July 1 when it reduced the intensive care unit from four staffed beds to two. The department will close July 1, 2015. Intensive care is for patients who need constant monitoring and attention.
“We just don’t get the traffic up there on a continuous basis,” hospital spokesman Doug Stutz said.
The hospital’s patients are too healthy for its family medicine training program’s own good. The program will be reduced to third-year residents this year and close next summer or fall.
“One of the reasons is, most of the people that get their care here are active duty,” Stutz said. “Active-duty people tend to be in a bit better shape than the rest of the populace, so the residents here aren’t getting as well-rounded training.”
U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor, got an item included in the defense budget that would preserve the program unless a Department of Defense-wide review determines closure meets the needs of the military, the patients and medical education residents. The bill passed the House and will go to conference with the Senate this year.
The Navy and Department of Veterans Affairs continue to work out details to allow patients registered with the Bremerton community-based outpatient clinic to receive health care and specialty services at Naval Hospital Bremerton instead of traveling to VA facilities in Seattle or Tacoma. It will be on a space-available basis. No start date has been set.
“As our mission and operational tempo permits, we hope to provide urgent, emergent and inpatient medical services to almost 4,000 eligible beneficiaries,” Stutz said.
New online tools are available. Patients can communicate directly with their Naval Hospital Bremerton home port team online instead of playing phone tag or medical team through the Online Medical Home Port service. There’s also a new nationwide Nurse Advice Line staffed by registered nurses 24/7.