Outgoing medical officer recalls challenges
Stars and Stripes June 26, 2007
YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — After two years as U.S. Forces Korea’s top medical officer, Col. James Jolissaint is slated to relinquish his command during a ceremony Thursday.
Jolissaint will pass command of the 18th Medical Command and his responsibilities as USFK and 8th Army command surgeon to Col. Jeffrey Clark.
Col. Ronald Smith will take command of U.S. Army Medical Activity and the 121st Combat Support Hospital.
Jolissaint, who will move on to Walter Reed Army Medical Center’s transition office, sat down with Stars and Stripes to discuss his accomplishments and the changes patients in the USFK community can expect after he leaves.
Jolissaint took command June 23, 2006. Since then, he’s worked through challenges including personnel shortages, increasing numbers of patients and trying to balance his command’s wartime mission with day-to-day patient care.
Jolissaint said one of the biggest challenges he faced came with the downsizing of USFK, causing him to lose 200 soldiers over the course of a year. In the meantime, he said, former USFK commander Gen. B.B. Bell’s push to normalize tours increased the medical command’s workload by about 10 percent as more family members came to South Korea, and civilians replaced outgoing soldiers.
Earlier this year, the 121st CSH was forced to prioritize customers based on Tricare beneficiary status because of a lack of medical care providers.
The staffing problem led to the creation of U.S. Army Medical Command, Korea, in November.
Jolissaint said the MEDAC gave 18th Medical Command the flexibility to hire civilian providers to replace the hospital’s diminished staff.
Since then the hospital has been able to ease, though not eliminate, priority restrictions for medical care.
Jolissaint said establishing the MEDAC was one of the things he was most proud of accomplishing during his tour.
He also takes pride in the 600 percent increase in the number of 18th MEDCOM soldiers who earned their Expert Field Medical Badge this year.
Jolissaint said out of 282 who tested, 42 soldiers earned the coveted medic’s badge this year. Only six earned it last year, out of about the same number of hopefuls.
"We just weren’t conducting the training that needed to be conducted," he said. "This is our opportunity to teach our medics how to do what they’ll be expected to do in their next assignments."
Despite his accomplishments, Jolissaint leaves some unfinished business for his replacements.
He said he had hoped to hire a contractor to run South Korea’s Tricare service center. In addition, the contractor would have been responsible for creating a network of off-post care providers.
Under the contract, the 22 off-post medical facilities that have formal agreements with 18th MEDCOM to provide care to Tricare beneficiaries would join the network.
Jolissaint said a contract should have been selected by July, but because of unknown delays, the proposal has yet to be posted.
"It was either bureaucratic or legal," Jolissaint said, adding that he thinks it will be at least another year before 18th MEDCOM personnel can hand over Tricare service in South Korea.
Even with loose ends, Jolissaint said he enjoyed the challenges his tour brought him.
"I cannot imagine a more professionally fulfilling assignment than the one I’ve had over the last two years," he said.