Outpatients move into new digs at Landstuhl

By STEVE MRAZ | STARS AND STRIPES Published: October 24, 2007

LANDSTUHL, Germany — Spc. Shawn English saw his parents for the first time in nearly 10 months Monday night — all from the comfort of his room in Landstuhl Regional Medical Center’s new Medical Transient Detachment barracks.

English, whose right arm is in a sling after suffering an adverse reaction to an injection in northern Iraq, conducted a video chat over wireless Internet from his room’s computer.

“They saw me,” said the 22-year-old from Austin, Texas. “I saw them. I just nearly cried. It was awesome.”

English is one of several outpatients from Iraq and Afghanistan who, until Saturday, were housed in barracks nearly 20 miles away in Kaiserslautern. With the move, they are now just steps from their doctors, liaisons and case managers.

“That back-and-forth, back-and-forth is eliminated as far as appointments,” said Army Capt. Katrina Gawlik, detachment commander.

In addition to no longer having to endure a lengthy bus ride from Kaiserslautern to the hospital, the outpatients are living in newly refurbished quarters. The wounded troops enjoy free, fresh cups of coffee served from a sleek machine. Video game, TV and craft rooms offer places to hang out after their appointments. Phone rooms and Internet cafes allow free communication to loved ones.

Instead of rooms that sleep 10 people, the wounded — at the most — will share a room with one other person. Each room in the two, four-story medical transient detachment buildings has a phone, cable TV, DVD player, microwave, refrigerator and a computer, equipped with a webcam and free Internet access. Also, the buildings house laundry facilities and kitchens.

“Everybody who’s walked through has said, ‘This is better than my house,’” Gawlik said.

The move to a newly remodeled outpatient facility comes in the wake of scrutiny earlier this year over shoddy outpatient housing at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C.

In early 2005, an outpatient facility for wounded and sick troops coming from downrange was established at Kaiserslautern’s Kleber Kaserne. This spring, work began to provide wounded troops an outpatient barracks at Landstuhl. Installation Management Command spent more than 2 million euros ($2.9 million) renovating the two buildings.

“It was the right thing to do,” said Col. Brian Lein, Landstuhl commander. “It just took a while to make sure that we had the right buildings and we had the right facilities. We were not going to move the warriors until we were sure that we had the right facilities and were able to maintain or improve on the quality of care they were going to have.”

The facilities can house 230 outpatients, and there are 32 extra beds available if needed.

One change for the outpatients now staying at Landstuhl is that they will no longer be allowed to drink alcohol. Previous policy allowed the outpatients to drink after their first 24 hours of arriving.

More than 50 percent of the outpatients are on medications that do not react well with alcohol, Lein said. Also, Landstuhl screens each troop for post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury. Results of those tests can be skewed by alcohol, Lein said.

The no-alcohol policy could be re-examined for troops who are not on medications, will not be taking medications and have been tested for PTSD and TBI, Lein said.

Airman 1st Class Robert Pelotte, a weapons loader from the 455th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron at Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan, shoots pool in the recreation area at Landstuhl’s new Medical Transient Detachment barracks Tuesday. Playing with Pelotte was Airman 1st Class Josh Vierra, also with the 455th.

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