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Military & Veterans' Issues

Defense Health Agency Confirms San Antonio’s Military Medical Jobs Are Safe For Now

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MSgt. Reynaldo Ramon Regional | Health Command Europr
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Allison Payne, an Army Nurse with the Stuttgart Army Health Clinic Immunizations Department, provides a mission overview to Lt. Gen. Ronald J. Place, Director of the Defense Health Agency, during his visit to Stuttgart on Sept. 11.

Defense Health Agency director Army Lt. Gen. Ronald Place said Thursday that those working within San Antonio’s Military Health System would not lose their jobs due to a restructuring mandated by Congress. 

The SAMHS is comprised of the Air Force’s 59th Medical Wing, Brooke Army Medical Center and subordinate units. It employs about 12,000 staff and cares for some 240,000 beneficiaries, according to its website.

In 2017, Congress directed the Defense Department to start consolidating military hospitals and clinics under a single umbrella — the Defense Health Agency — to increase efficiency. The Army, Navy and Air Force previously managed their own siloed health care systems. 

As part of the changeover, nearly 18,000 uniformed medical billets are expected to be cut across the military and repurposed into combat arms functions. 

On Oct. 1, the military medical facilities in San Antonio transitioned to the DHA, but the services are still providing direct support. 

Lt. Gen. Place held a meeting with DHA personnel working locally, and received updates on their reorganization efforts. 

The Effect On Local Jobs

Some staff within San Antonio’s military health system have expressed uncertainty about whether their jobs will be affected — and when. Place admitted in an interview that communication around the DHA transition had not gone as smoothly as he’d hoped. 

“We have been not as effective as I had hoped or planned in the way that we're communicating this either internally, with our own staff — be they uniformed, civilian, or contract — or externally, to the beneficiaries of our care,” he said.

“We're falling short on... how well we're accomplishing the mission of a shared understanding of the way ahead. We have folks on our staff working to close that gap.”

Place added that, while no current staff within the San Antonio Military Health System will lose their jobs, their billets may go away after they retire or move on. 

“We see no cuts in staff at the local area,” Place said. “We see any efficiencies that we gain that require a smaller staff occurring through natural attrition.”

The DHA has opted to manage military facilities by dividing them into regional markets. A market is typically anchored by a large hospital or medical center, and operates as a system, sharing patients, providers, functions and budgets. 

Some local administrative support positions are likely to be realigned, Place explained, as San Antonio’s market becomes more established. 

"What we have to be adaptable and agile — to adjust to the circumstances of the world — such that we continue to provide that extraordinary healthcare for our uniformed staff and their families, retirees and their families.”

Place said he expected DHA’s market office in San Antonio to be operational by Spring 2020. 

Carson Frame can be reached at Carson@TPR.org and on Twitter at @carson_frame.