Starting this October, the Defense Health Agency will take control of all San Antonio-area military medical facilities, including Brooke Army Medical Center, from each of their respective commands.
Last year, Congress gave the Defense Health Agency oversight over the administration of military health care and medical research. The phased changeover is expected to be completed by 2021.
Vice Adm. Raquel Bono, director of the Defense Health Agency, visited Brooke Army Medical Center Monday to brief media about the change and what it means for service members, their families, hospital staff and civilians.
“One of the things we’ve appreciated across Army medicine, Navy medicine and Air Force medicine is that, while we have very strong individual service programs, when we work together, we’re one of the most comprehensive and robust health care systems out there,” Bono said.
The Defense Health Agency is one of the largest federated health systems in the country, following the Veterans Health Administration. Part of the agency’s job, Bono said, is to better coordinate resources and flows of information.
“What we do is look across the individual services’ medical departments to find all those areas where we can synergize and centralize our activities so we can create efficiencies and actually reinvest in our military health system.”
The Defense Department has tentative plans to eliminate more than 17,000 uniformed medical positions across the military health system starting in October 2020, according to Military.com.
Those individuals would be re-purposed as war fighters or put into combat support roles, and civilians would assume many of their responsibilities.
For the moment, Bono explained, the DHA is working to identify areas where it can best support military treatment facilities and patients in light of those manpower reductions.
According to its website, the San Antonio Military Health System has a $1.2 billion operating budget, employs about 12,000 people and serves at least 240,000 beneficiaries.
Bono said patients shouldn’t notice too many changes after the transition, though they might find it’s easier to navigate the different military treatment facilities.
“What it would look like when we finish this transition is that the patients at Brooke Army would make an appointment the same exact way they would at San Diego or that they would make at Fairchild. We want to be able to make it standardized ... so they have a reasonable expectation of how they can access the system.”
Bono said the military health system will take part in public-facing transparency efforts, such as Leapfrog, a hospital safety ratings guide.
Behind the scenes, changes will include the deployment of an electronic record and the adoption of standardized workflows across the military health system.