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Yongsan's 121st General Hospital will switch to combat support structure

A soldier hands prescription medicine to a customer at the pharmacy April 27 inside the 121st General Hospital on Yongsan Garrison, South Korea.

TERI WEAVER / S&S

By TERI WEAVER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: October 11, 2006

YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — On Oct. 16, the 121st General Hospital will stand down.

The hospital unit itself — its staff, patient procedures and equipment — will continue to its peacetime mission exactly as it has for decades, 18th Medical Command officials said last week.

But the hospital’s structure will change to that of a Combat Support Hospital, a unit that offers more flexibility and better care during wartime, according to Col. J. G. Jolissaint, commander of the 18th Medical Command.

The change is part of a worldwide Army transformation to create more nimble medical units that can move, set up, supply and perform independently and quickly, he said. The 121st was the Army’s only remaining overseas general hospital.

“What we really need are CaSHs,” Jolissaint said, using the abbreviated form of the combat hospital. “They provide the best surgical and resuscitative capabilities you can have on the battlefield.”

Patients at the 121st General Hospital on Yongsan Garrison will see little change other than new signs, Jolissaint said. But the restructuring means the unit’s servicemembers will break from one company into three, said Lt. Col. J. Scott Thomas, the 18th Medical Command’s deputy chief of staff for operations.

Currently, the general hospital is authorized to have 1,027 servicemembers who can set up a wartime treatment facility of four operating rooms, eight intensive care units and a total of 476 beds, according to Thomas. Not all of those personnel are stationed in South Korea, but they would come into South Korea in a time of crisis, he said.

As a CaSH, however, the 121st will cut its authorized staff by 19 percent, down to 835. It will have the resources to operate three operating rooms, four intensive-care units and 368 patient beds. Again, a portion of those slots would be filled by off-peninsula personnel but instead of needing 290 incoming servicemembers, the CaSH needs only 81 to operate at full capacity, Thomas said.

The CaSH also will have three separate companies, two of which can set up patient care facilities without needing extra personnel, Thomas said. Company A will have the resources and manpower to set up 84 beds and run two operating rooms. Company B can manage 164 beds and four operating rooms, he said. Company C will be the headquarters company.

“This is all based on the lessons of Desert Storm,” he said during an interview Wednesday.

Those lessons are playing out now in Iraq and Afghanistan, Thomas and Jolissaint said. Servicemembers are receiving quicker and more successful treatment closer to the battlefield; long-term convalescence occurs further away from the war zone.

The hospital unit will hold a ceremony at 1 p.m. Oct. 20 on Lombardo Field to formally change its name.

The structural change will continue as much of the medical staff moves south as U.S. Forces Korea sets up its eventual headquarters at Camp Humphreys. Eventually, the 18th Medical Command is to move to Hawaii and a brigade-level unit will take over medical care in South Korea, Thomas said.

For now, the staffing, location and medical care at the hospital will remain the same, he said.

“It’s the same friendly faces,” he said.