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"Contaminated" patients pass through a decontamination tent connected to the 374th Medical Group's emergency room entrance before admission to the hospital during an Operational Readiness Exercise at Yokota Air Base, Japan, in January. Since hospital staff members, including physicians and technicians, have specific roles during exercises, Yokota's primary care clinics commonly defer routine appointments until the end of a basewide drill or inspection. But medical officials say essential services are never shut down.
"Contaminated" patients pass through a decontamination tent connected to the 374th Medical Group's emergency room entrance before admission to the hospital during an Operational Readiness Exercise at Yokota Air Base, Japan, in January. Since hospital staff members, including physicians and technicians, have specific roles during exercises, Yokota's primary care clinics commonly defer routine appointments until the end of a basewide drill or inspection. But medical officials say essential services are never shut down. (Javier Cruz Jr. / Courtesy of U.S. Air Force)

YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — Yokota’s primary care clinics commonly limit appointments around exercises and will again during next week’s Operational Readiness Inspection by Pacific Air Forces, said Col. Steven Shaffer, 374th Medical Group director of organizational compliance.

The same would happen in a serious real-world incident, but essential services on base never are shut off, Shaffer said.

“Emergency services, inpatient and obstetric services are fully operational at all times and have the support of on-call laboratory, radiology and pharmacy personnel,” he said. “During OREs (operational readiness exercises) and the ORI, all hospital personnel are tasked with other duties that support our wartime mission and that’s the only time we can prepare and practice those specific skills. However, a qualified team of medical professionals is left in each clinic so that patients can continue to have limited access to acute and routine care.”

Routine appointments sometimes are deferred until an exercise’s conclusion, he conceded, but he added that patients requiring frequent follow-up — including pregnant women — are seen during basewide drills and will be accommodated during the ORI.

Other health services also face obstacles at exercise or inspection time.

Due to staffing concerns, physical rehabilitation is reserved for patients needing immediate post-operative treatment, according to Shaffer. The Life Skills Support Center, Yokota’s mental health clinic, also is affected, but services are available 24 hours a day.

During an ORE or ORI, the on-call provider can be reached during normal duty hours for emergencies only, he said. After hours, a Life Skills representative can be accessed through the emergency room.

Shaffer says Yokota’s emergency room always is fully staffed and patients are not used as role players in exercises, inspections or related scenarios.

Hospital staff members, including physicians and technicians, each have specific roles to fill during exercises, he said. Some may “deploy” while others could take part in noncombatant evacuation operations or get assigned to teams responding in a mass-casualty “event.” Many are pulled to other 374th Airlift Wing units to support them in expanded duties.

Clinics plan for limited services during OREs and create appointment schedules based on staff availability, Shaffer added.

“Each clinic tries to accommodate their specific patient population’s needs but with limited personnel,” he said, but meeting the demand for routine or general-wellness appointments “is a challenge during the exercises.” Each clinic, he said, “keeps a team available to see patients during the normal duty day by the on-call physicians. However, patients with acute needs may be referred to the emergency room for immediate care as the medical case and clinic schedule warrants.”

Urgent dental needs are met with same-day evaluations during exercises and inspections, Shaffer said. Emergency treatment for ailments like trauma, extreme bleeding and pain is available on a walk-in basis during regular hours and via the emergency room on nights and weekends.

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