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Staff members work inside the newly renovated health clinic at Camp Humphreys, South Korea. Officials are upgrading and expanding the clinic to meet a gradual increase in base population, including families with children.
Staff members work inside the newly renovated health clinic at Camp Humphreys, South Korea. Officials are upgrading and expanding the clinic to meet a gradual increase in base population, including families with children. (Photo courtesy of U.S. Army)

The U.S. Army helicopter base at Camp Humphreys in South Korea is moving to turn its health clinic into a bigger operation geared for a growing population that includes families with children.

The effort entails overall renovation of the building, creating more patient examination rooms, bringing in new medical equipment and expanding services to treat children and the base’s civilian members, said Maj. David Wolken, who heads the clinic.

The base’s patient population has increased by about a third over the past year, said Wolken, going from 6,289 in 2002 to a current level of about 9,000, and it’s projected to reach about 12,500 by 2009, he said.

The number of families at Camp Humphreys with command sponsorship is growing “almost double that of other posts on the peninsula, and more kids and more people pregnant” are part of the base population, Wolken said.

For years, the clinic served primarily active-duty soldiers, not families, civilians and retirees, Wolken said.

“We’re kind of transitioning from a troop medical clinic to a community health clinic,” Wolken said.

With a troop medical clinic, “the focus is the troop, the active-duty soldier, and to see him expeditiously” and return him to duty, Wolken said. “It doesn’t allow a lot of flexibility to the non-active-duty members, to include the child that has the acute illness, as well as … a patient that’s a retiree.”

The effort’s first phase was a $125,000 clinic renovation, finished April 9, Wolken said. Workers put in better lighting and new tile flooring and painted the walls. Officials also found ways to more efficiently use the clinic’s existing space, increasing the number of patient examination rooms from 12 to 19.

In addition, more than $300,000 of medical equipment is slated to arrive in coming months: X-ray equipment; examination stools, tables, and lights; scopes for ear-nose-throat examinations; better surgical lighting; tables for performing skin-related procedures like biopsies; and a portable electro-cautery unit that helps stop minor bleeding.

Among items pediatric items will be a radiological immobilizer to keep infants steady during X-rays, Wolken said. “It’s just a device that allows for little tiny infants that can’t sit upright ... so you minimize the number of X-rays you need.”

Also on order is a hand-carried eye exam machine to let doctors quickly check a tot’s vision. “We just squat down to the child’s level,” said Wolken; doctors “within seconds” can “get a vision screen on 3- to 5-year-olds.”

And they’ve ordered “papoose boards,” which temporarily immobilize infants who need procedures like stitches or shots “without the child grabbing for the instruments … it’s sure going to be a benefit,” he said.

Also, Wolken said, “This year was the first year we’ve had a board-certified pediatrician, and we’re going to continue that next year.” The clinic has a family physician for the first time as well.

Driving the expansion is the U.S. military’s stated plans gradually to shift forces to points south of Seoul, among them an eventual “hub” in the Pyongtaek region, which takes in Camp Humphreys and Osan Air Base. Medical officials at both bases said they’re expecting their services and staffing eventually to grow to meet the influx.

“Camp Humphreys is definitely going to be a strong focus for meeting the health care needs of the peninsula,” Wolken said. “That’s the transition that we’re going through.”

The recent renovations looked good to one member of the base community who had a medical appointment there Monday.

“I was seen quickly … they have a smooth process to get people in for their appointment … prescriptions and blood work and everything went quite smoothly” said Susan Barclay, Area III public affairs chief. “And in addition to that, the appearance of the clinic is improved more than 100 percent.”

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