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DVIDS – News – NHB/NMRTC Bremerton – 40 years of Service before Self at the current locale

Before the eruption of Mount St. Helens May 18, 1980, there was another seismic movement around this time that impacted Navy commands in Kitsap County.

Certainly not as cataclysmic as a volcanic explosion, but on May 11, 1980, Naval Hospital Bremerton/Navy Medicine Readiness and Training Command (NMRTC) Bremerton opened at its current Ostrich Bay location.

The date is marked not so much by celebration or even by muted acknowledgement. The fanfare might be minimal, but not the appreciation for the medical care provided to warfighters and their families, past and present, to keep them ready, healthy and on the job.

Especially during this time of helping stop the spread of COVID-19 to protect Sailors, civilians and their families, support municipal partners, and ensure mission readiness in the Pacific Northwest.

At the 30 year mark the command recognized several plank owners – staff members Karen Clements, certified executive housekeeping manager, Rick Smith of material management, and Lynda Fournier, a contracting officer – who came with the hospital after it was relocated from present day Naval Base Kitsap (NBK) Bremerton to its present site.

With the passage of time, all those who were part of the old and new hospital have moved on. Yet their commitment to service before self has continued to be part of the command’s culture over the years. Others have responded to the call of duty, whether caring for the local populace or deploying to far-flung locales.

From Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm to Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF), Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF), Operation New Dawn, and continuous support of contingency operations, NHB doctors, nurses, hospital corpsmen and support staff have gone in harm’s way. The average deployment rate was near seven percent – approximately 56 – from nearly 800 active duty officer and enlisted personnel during OEF/OIF.

Staff members also participated in the yearly-held Pacific Partnership missions, the largest annual multinational humanitarian assistance and disaster relief preparedness mission conducted in the Indo-Pacific.

They were sent as part of Joint Task Force Horn of Africa, and have left at a moment notice to help those in need when the Caribbean island nation of Haiti was struck by a magnitude 7.0 earthquake in 2010.

They have assembled early, such as on an October, 2013 morning to witness one of their own, Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Michael Marchante receive the Bronze Star with Combat V for his selfless action in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. When involved in combat operations searching for enemy locations, a Republic of Georgia soldier stepped on an improvised explosive device in a wadi (dry streambed). Marchante immediately ran over 300 meters across IED laden ground to save the life of the badly wounded platoon commander. He promptly applied tourniquets and pressure dressings to staunch the rapid blood loss while coming under heavy enemy gun fire. With the bullets flying all around, he shielded the casualty with his own body and continued to provide life-saving medical care. Marchante is but one recognized for such action.

NHB staff rendered essential aid for the U.S. Army-led Joint Reception Coordination Center (JRCC) following the catastrophic earthquake and tsunami in Japan. Hospital personnel were among the first responders to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport in support of Operation Pacific Passage, establishing on-site and on-call medical support teams that received, managed, and administered to over 7,000 returning family members over seven days in 2011.

The decades have seen NHB lauded for environmentally-friendly initiatives which have resulted in recognition at local and national levels for its commitment as sound environmental stewards. They have revamped recycle efforts – paper products, plastic, metal, aluminum, to name a few – throughout the command, along with continually raising awareness through ecologically sound practices, energy progress and environmental stewardship.

The conversion of the Emergency Room to the current Urgent Care Center (UCC) in 2014 was a noticeable transitional change for many. Other planned modifications that took place included closing of the Intensive Care Unit due to minimal usage, and the Puget Sound Family Medicine Graduate Medical Education program being phased out in 2016.

Along with advancement in medicine, the command routinely went out of its’ collective way to care for others, perhaps no better example than two retired Navy chief petty officers.

Gene Hanson’s Navy career spanned three turbulent decades and involvement in World War Two, the Korean War and Vietnam War. As the retired chief storekeeper explained it, he was simply answering the call to duty. No time to complain. There was work to do. He continued to put service before self. He made it a point to always be present when hospital personnel were being sent off to support OEF and OIF. He was a fixture of reaching out to others. He was there to pass out care packages filled with everything from smoked salmon to playing cards. No matter how early or how late, he was always there for the Sailors. No complaints, still putting service before self.

There was Chief Boatswain Mate Jerry Irvine, who provided countless hours of volunteer assistance to the command, including his nautical knot board work visible throughout the command.

Although not one to share sea stories – much – his time in uniform was the stuff of legend. During three tours in Vietnam he was on nine vessels, mainly patrolling in the Mekong River Delta, including near Hue City, February, 1968, during the initial Tet offensive. Irvine was mentioned prominently in numerous dispatches.

Both passed away in 2017. Gone but not forgotten.

If there’s been one commonality amongst staff members who have received the Bronze Star such as Marchante, or been a Purple Heart recipient like Hospital Corpsman First Class Richard Vaughn, or even been presented the Navy Cross by Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class Warren Work, for ‘extraordinary heroism April 8, 1967 while serving with the Marines in combat against insurgent communist – Viet Cong – forces in the Republic of Vietnam, it’s that every Sailor attested they were only doing their duty, putting service before self.

There is also a solemn and somber side, expressively noticeable with the 2015 addition of the hallowed ‘Hospital Corps Heroes Wall of Honor.’ The display has 57 etched names, all of which share two distinctive traits. One is that they are all hospital corpsmen. The other is that they all have been lost in serving their country during time of war. From the battlefields of Iraq to the firefights in Afghanistan, the names of those killed are represented. The wall was conceived and constructed by Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class (Fleet Marine Force) Michael Nakamura and Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class (Fleet Marine Force) Derrick Ward.

Just as prominent and meaningful are the relief sculptures featuring classic symbols of the Haida, the indigenous nation of the Pacific Northwest coast adorning the hospital’s outside structure.

There are 58 concrete panels, ranging from 7 feet to 22 feet. Just outside the main entrance to the hospital’s quarterdeck, there are panels of Sun and Moon. According to Haida legend, Sun was considered brother of the Moon, and Raven (in the lower portion of the Sun panel) was a uniting factor in the Haida mythology. Moon, with Salmon/Trout (on the lower portion of the Moon panel) is utilized in a similar design.

That connection to surrounding mountains, air and water really became apparent on a national scale recently when NHB became one of the four sites in the Pacific Northwest, along with U.S. Air Force 92nd Medical Group at Fairchild Air Force Base, Naval Health Clinic Oak Harbor and Madigan Army Medical Center, to deploy the Department of Defense new electronic health record, MHS GENESIS, in 2017.

MHS GENESIS is a single integrated electronic health record for service members, veterans and their families that integrates inpatient and outpatient, medical, and dental information across the continuum of care, from point of injury – whether ship, shore, submarine, and squadron – to the military hospital or clinic.

At the time, the new system ushered in a new period of keeping pace with medical advances and innovations in technology to continue enhancing high quality healthcare for all patients.

There were lessons learned, issues resolved, and improvements implemented. Staff continue to refine and enhance their ability in operating the system, while improving MHS GENESIS for future Military Health System users.

As an example of just what the system can—and has—accomplished, NHB became the first MHS GENESIS site last year to provide results on radiology studies completed at a different military treatment facility. The 92nd Medical Group in Spokane, Wash. sent radiology studies to NHB using MHS GENESIS which were read by Radiology providers and finalized in approximately 30 minutes.

On Oct. 1, 2019, NHB, including Branch Health Clinic(s) Bangor, Everett and Puget Sound Naval Shipyard transitioned to the Defense Health Agency (DHA).

The congressionally mandated move allows Navy Medicine to structure its forces to focus on readiness to meet the needs of operational commanders, while transferring the administration, management and control of Military Treatment Facilities (MTF) like NHB to the DHA.

Navy Medicine simultaneously established a co-located Navy Medicine Readiness and Training Command (NMRTC) at NHB to complement the hospitals’ transition to DHA. The overlapping goal ensures there is force medical readiness and medical force readiness.

That same principle lead to the hospital being relocated to its’ current site, situated between Puget Sound Naval Shipyard (PSNS) and Naval Base Kitsap (NBK) Bremerton to the south and NBK Bangor to the north.

The dedication ceremony back in 1980 was attended by an overflowing audience of staff, visitors and distinguished guests.

Captain Robert C. Elliott, then-NHB commanding officer from July 19, 1977 to June 23, 1980, gave a brief address expressing his appreciation on behalf of his command for the effort to bring about the successful completion of the replacement project. Rear Admiral J. William Cox, Naval Regional Medical Center San Diego commanding officer and keynote speaker, described the new hospital as a healing haven of repair for bodies just as PSNS provides maintenance and repair for the fleet. “The Navy and Marine Corps team is the teeth of the dragon and the medical department is the gums that hold the teeth in place,” Cox remarked.

Before the present site, NHB/NMRTC Bremerton was situated for more than 68 years on NBK Bremerton, including some departments in the current administration building.

Earlier, the hospital was at several PSNS locations. During the early shipyard years, from 1891 to 1903, medical activities were performed aboard the small gunboat USS Nipsic. On March 9, 1903, the Medical Department’s first permanent building was designated a Naval Hospital on the site of what is now PSNS’s Dry Dock #1. That site soon became obsolete due to the shipyard’s rapid growth. Construction for the replacement hospital was completed on Jan. 27, 1911, and after a year to fully equip the new facility it was occupied and opened on Jan 1, 1912. Before and during World War I, the hospital complex was expanded into temporary buildings because of increased need. Those temporary structures were eventually replaced by permanent buildings starting in the 1920s, and continuing through the 1930s into the 1940s.

After relocating to the current site, NHB underwent a $24 million expansion project that was completed in 2001 that added the three-story Family Care Center wing, home to Family Medicine, Pharmacy, Medical Records, Immunization Clinic, and Health Promotion and Wellness Center. The three-level underground parking garage for approximately 200 cars was also completed at this time.

Other buildings at the command include a 66-room bachelor enlisted quarters, fitness center, satellite pharmacy for refill pick-ups located in adjacent Jackson Park Naval Housing, plus engineering and administrative buildings.

For 2020, the command has been at the epicenter for helping to deal with the novel coronavirus and stop the spread of COVID-19 amongst the third largest fleet concentration in the U.S. The hospital and clinics remain open to serving the health care needs of active duty service members, their families, and other eligible beneficiaries.

There have also been a number of changes made to lessen the pandemic outbreak, such as; setting up a drive-through screening process for all beneficiaries coming to the hospital located in close proximity to the Urgent Care Center; using virtual/telehealth options for health care delivery, wherever possible; and advocating a mandatory policy of cloth face covering and physical distance protocol for all staff, patients, and visitors.

Planning is taking place to bring services back in a controlled manner. There are also plans afoot to bring staff members home from providing needed support elsewhere. Safety and security of all involved remains paramount.

As does service before self, the standard for the past 40 years at the current site, as well as many decades before.

Date Taken: 05.11.2020
Date Posted: 05.12.2020 13:14
Story ID: 369803
Location: BREMERTON, WA, US 

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