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121st General Hospital in Seoul alters discharge policy

By FRANKLIN FISHER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: September 3, 2006

The Army’s big hospital in Seoul has adopted a new policy to ensure patients rushed there from far away are helped with transportation and other aid when they’re ready to go home.

The policy at the 121st General Hospital now allows for patients to be provided, when necessary, temporary off-hours lodging, clothing, a box or bag lunch meal and ride to the train or bus station.

And it tasks a specific hospital department with promptly phoning a medevac patient’s unit or next-of-kin to say the patient has been brought in for emergency treatment.

It applies to servicemembers, Defense Department civilians and family members who are medevaced to the hospital on an emergency basis and later need transportation to their “home station,” said Col. Karen Gausman, deputy commander for nursing with the Army’s 18th Medical Command and 121st General Hospital.

The policy came after U.S. Forces Korea commander Gen. B.B. Bell in May visited Area IV in the Daegu region and heard of a medically evacuated family member who upon release from the hospital had to arrange transportation and clothing without assistance. Bell directed his staff to come up with a plan for averting such occurrences.

Since the policy took effect in July, the hospital has provided various services 57 times, Gausman said Thursday.

In cases where a patient lacks proper clothing at time of discharge, the hospital will provide the basics.

“It would be a set of sweats because they’re pretty universal in terms of conforming to both the male and the female body,” said Gausman. Footwear would be flip-flops or a sandal-type shoe, she said.

And officials will help provide on- or off-base lodging if a patient is discharged while public transportation is not available, usually between midnight and 6 a.m., she said.

“Initially, every effort will be made to obtain low-cost or no-cost lodging and there are some facilities available on post,” said Gausman. Patients have been lodged at the Walker House on Yongsan Garrison, she said, but could be placed at the Dragon Hill Lodge if needed.

She said most of the provisions in the new policy are practices the hospital already had in place. But she acknowledged that they were not always uniformly practiced.

“There is always the opportunity for issues to fall through the cracks. … Turnover of staff allows for breaks in continuity of policies and procedures, and this policy clarifies for all, the requirements, roles and responsibility,” Gausman said.


Medevac patients to receive help, to a point

While a new policy at the 121st General Hospital that covers discharge of medevac patients provides for a ride to a train or bus station, from there they could be on their own.

The policy does not require hospital staff to escort the patient farther.

One possible consequence of that is that patients who are new to South Korea, unable to speak the language or are unaware of how to read a Korean rail ticket, for example, might nevertheless have to manage the return trip.

However, hospital staff will look to provide what help they can, said Army Col. Karen Gausman, deputy commander of nursing with the 18th Medical Command and 121st General Hospital in Seoul.

“I would say that we are going to do what is right in getting them back and that is going to be based on the circumstances at the time,” she said. But, she advised, “Wherever it’s feasible, the ideal is the unit or family meets the patient at the hospital” and sees them home.

— Franklin Fisher

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