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CAMP BONDSTEEL, Kosovo — The number of local nationals being treated and admitted by the Task Force Med Falcon hospital has dropped dramatically in the past few months.

The hospital was averaging one injured local national every other day, according to Task Force Med Falcon statistics. But now doctors and nurses may not see anyone except military personnel all week.

“It’s really dropped off,” said Sgt. 1st Class Mark Stiftinger, an emergency medical technician and noncommissioned officer-in-charge.

Stiftinger said sick and injured residents now have more health care options, because Kosovo medical facilities have improved.

Since October, the hospital has treated only three locals, and only one was admitted.

Most recently, a man was injured in an accident on the main road that runs past Camp Bondsteel; he was brought to the military compound for treatment.

In October, two boys were injured by a grenade and were flown by medical helicopter to Camp Bondsteel for treatment.

After being stabilized, they were transferred to the hospital in Pristina, the capital of Kosovo, for further treatment. One of the boys remains hospitalized.

For the past two years, from the end of the NATO bombing campaign to March 19, 2002, 429 local nationals have been admitted for an overnight stay.

From March until Oct. 1, 11 more were treated. “You just don’t see much anymore,” said Army Capt. Lori Hill, a patient action officer.

1st Lt. Joel Morgan, Task Force Med Falcon adjutant, said the only time the hospital can treat a local is if the person has an injury that threatens “limb, life or sight.”

If someone shows up at the gate, calls are made to and from the various commands to see if that individual is eligible for care, Morgan explained.

Overall, everything at the hospital has slowed, Morgan said, not just the mission tempo but also the number of locals needing help.

The United States has been slowly reducing its military presence in the Balkans. Currently, U.S. forces make up about 10 percent of the roughly 30,000-member U.N. peacekeeping force in Kosovo.

Still, the medical staff keeps busy.

Doctors and others regularly travel to the hospital in Gnjilane to teach medical techniques, said Lt. Col. Mark Hodges, who is essentially the nursing supervisor for Task Force Med Falcon.

The hospital in Gnjilane was damaged in an earthquake last summer, he said, and local surgeons must now work in operating facilities that are below American standards.

American military surgeons are working to teach procedures such as laparoscopic surgery, where a doctor can use small incisions and special instruments to conduct less-invasive, easier-to-heal surgeries such as a gallbladder removal, Hodges said.

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