Capt. Wyatt Morrisse from the 510th Fighter Squadron at Aviano Air Base talks about the F-16 to a group of Italian medical providers who were visiting the base Friday.

Capt. Wyatt Morrisse from the 510th Fighter Squadron at Aviano Air Base talks about the F-16 to a group of Italian medical providers who were visiting the base Friday. (Kent Harris / S&S)

AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy — Many Americans stationed at Aviano are used to receiving medical care from local Italian professionals.

That’s shown by the 3,300 appointments made with doctors outside the base in 2005.

Without them, Col. Michael Schaffrinna, the 31st Medical Group commander, said Friday that patients who couldn’t be treated on base would have to be flown to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany or to the States.

“That would be extremely expensive and, more importantly, it wouldn’t be timely,” he said.

So the Air Force invited dozens of providers from the network of caregivers to the base to receive a few thank-yous, a tour of the grounds and some of its aircraft and a “virtual tour” of the base’s soon-to-open medical clinic.

Brig Gen. Robert Yates, commander of the 31st Fighter Wing, assured the medical workers that they wouldn’t be losing customers when the clinic — “which will open …” he said knocking loudly on the wooden lectern “... hopefully next month” — begins operating.

While the new facility will likely eliminate the U.S. pediatrics operation in nearby Sacile, Americans will continue to see Italian doctors for a variety of needs, he said.

“Needless to say, we’re very, very grateful for your services,” Yates said.

Those services include specialty care and emergency treatment around the clock. Yates said 30 Americans with emergency cases were treated by Italian medical personnel in 2005. Six of them involved helicopter flights.

“They are our 911,” Schaffrinna said.

Capt. S. Kellie Williams, Tricare Flight chief at Aviano, said 41 providers are registered in the network, but patients can be referred to others as well. They include staff at such places as the hospital in nearby Pordenone, as well as specialists in surrounding cities such as Udine, Trieste and Padova.

Only one Italian national, a part-time emergency medical technician, provides medical care on base. Italian doctors and nurses work at the base clinic in Vicenza, however, and Italians perform a number of support roles at the Navy’s hospital in Naples.

Italian civilians hold a variety of positions in virtually all operations at Aviano. Schaffrina said the biggest barrier in getting an Italian doctor to work in the medical facility on base would be finances. It’s cheaper to employ an active-duty doctor than it would be an Italian national.

“In the future, I would not be surprised if we brought in a family practice doctor,” he said. “They’re not easy to find in the Air Force these days.”

One Italian doctor who regularly sees Americans is Leonardo Marini, a dermatologist who practices in Trieste and Portogruaro.

Marini said he enjoys treating Americans, because it provides a change of pace. In more ways than one.

“I can see different colors of skin, which is very important for a dermatologist,” he said.

Asked if there was a difference between American and Italian patients, Marini smiled.

“It’s much more fun with Americans,” he said. “They pay attention to what you say. The Italians don’t pay attention to what you say. They are very bad patients.”

After his Italian patients hear that, Marini might be a good candidate to be among the first to move on base himself.

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Kent has filled numerous roles at Stars and Stripes including: copy editor, news editor, desk editor, reporter/photographer, web editor and overseas sports editor. Based at Aviano Air Base, Italy, he’s been TDY to countries such as Afghanistan Iraq, Kosovo and Bosnia. Born in California, he’s a 1988 graduate of Humboldt State University and has been a journalist for almost 38 years.

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