TACOMA, Wash. — First Fort Lewis and McChord Air Field linked arms to make Joint Base Lewis-McChord. Now the Navy is in on the partnership, too.
A newly created Puget Sound military health care network consolidates medical services for the three branches of the Armed Forces, from Tacoma to Oak Harbor.
It aims to streamline oversight of military hospitals while promoting best practices among the service branches, its commander, Brig. Gen. John Cho, told the Tacoma-Pierce Chamber of Commerce military affairs committee Wednesday.
“You take the best of the services and you move forward,” he said.
The hub of the network is the Army’s Western Regional Medical Command at Lewis-McChord. That headquarters, led by Cho, oversees Army medicine at hospitals in 20 states. Madigan Army Medical Center is the largest.
Western Regional Medical Command now also has responsibility for what the Pentagon calls the “enhanced Puget Sound multiservice market” and for a similar concentration of military health care in Colorado Springs, Colo.
The idea is to break down barriers between the services to make the most of military specialists. For example, Cho said an Army doctor at Madigan should be able to consult one day with a Navy patient more than 100 miles away at Naval Hospital Oak Harbor, particularly if the new approach opens opportunities to practice telemedicine.
“If we get this right, the Puget Sound can show the rest of the military how to do this,” he told the chamber.
The Pentagon in October designated six multiservice health care markets in the regions where it has the densest concentrations of troops from multiple service branches. In Colorado, for instance, the mix includes airmen and soldiers.
Their creation followed the launch of the Defense Health Agency, which is charged with providing efficient health care across the military instead of separating the branches.
Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs Jonathan Woodson in September told military writer Tom Philpott that usage of military hospitals declined during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, partly because hospital staffs frequently were called up to deployments.
The multiservice markets are intended to bring more patients back to the military hospitals.
Cho in his remarks Wednesday acknowledged that the military is in a period of downsizing as it comes out of the wars. He could not say how much the Defense Department hopes to save with the new health care model.
“In many ways, this is a national treasure,” he said, referring to a regional military health care network that includes Army, Navy, Air Force and Veterans Affairs resources. “How do we maintain it?”