File photo Plains Regional Medical Center has identified labor and delivery as one of several services that need to be bolstered with an influx of new personnel at Cannon Air Force Base.
By Sharna Johnson: CNJ staff writer
As Cannon Air Force Base’s force size rises to a projected near 5,000 personnel level, local medical services are racing to catch up.
Beefing up labor and delivery, finding ways to streamline emergency services, adding mental health workers and specialists such as pediatricians and orthopedic surgeons are some of the ways Plains Regional Medical Center is answering the growing need.
At a May 4 Curry County Commission meeting, PRMC Director Hoyt Skabelund reported the base was growing faster than the hospital could accommodate.
Friday, Presbyterian Healthcare Systems Spokesman Brad Treptow said the hospital has made great strides in resolving many of the issues and is continuing to work to meet the needs.
Presbyterian is the parent-company for PRMC.
When Cannon’s mission was changed and a transition draw-down brought troop levels near 1,000 personnel, the hospital scaled back accordingly.
“When the base personnel had dropped, they adjusted,” he said.
“Now that they’re returning, they’re returning those service and staffing levels to the level that meets those needs.”
While Cannon has a medical facility, personnel are sent to civilian providers for specialty services, emergency services and other services, creating a need for local services.
“There’s a very good relationship that Cannon has with PRMC. There’s certain things that the Air Force can provide, then there’s other things they’d prefer to direct them to PRMC for,” he said.
A 2009 growth management plan — aimed at evaluating the communities within Curry and Roosevelt counties and their needed responses to growth at Cannon Air Force Base — highlighted areas of medical services that were lacking or needed bolstering to respond to Cannon’s growth.
Among issues identified, a lack of mental health providers was among the top concerns.
The plan said the area needs more specialists and four to six additional dentists, and it identified a “serious lack of mental health providers and treatment resources.”
At the time of the study, the area had only one psychiatrist, a shortage of licensed mental health providers and no inpatient treatment resources, the study said.
It recommended strong recruiting of specialists and providers.
While PRMC does not offer dental services, Treptow said recruiting is taking place in the other areas identified and some additions have already been made to PRMC’s staff.
“Currently limited mental health resources are available so recruitment efforts have been initiated for a psychologist, a mental health therapist and a psychiatric nurse practitioner,” he said.
An area PRMC has identified as a need is women’s health services such as labor and delivery as well as pediatrics.
“PRMC is responding to the growth throughout Cannon Air Force Base to appropriately account for services and staff accordingly,” he said. “This new mission tends to require women’s services in terms of labor and delivery, so they want to be sure they staff the women’s department.”
Treptow said the hospital has two pediatricians on staff as well as a temporary pediatrician while it searches for two more. Additionally, there are six pediatricians in the community who have PRMC usage privileges, making nine available.
“However, this will be a challenge as this specialty is in high demand while the supply is lower,” he said.
Orthopedic services are also needed, Treptow said, explaining the hospital has a staff orthopedic surgeon but is recruiting another as well as an orthopedic nurse practitioner, which they hope will be in place in four to five months.
A concern that also surfaced was that emergency room services would become overwhelmed and slowed by a larger influx, he said.
Treptow said in response, PRMC added same-day clinic appointments to help alleviate emergency room congestion.
“If they’re sick and they believe it warrants immediate attention, they’re going to go to an emergency room,” he said, but other cases can be diverted to the clinic.
Overall, Treptow said PRMC, “wants to make sure that they have a real good voice in the community, (And are looking at) how to adjust their operations to meet those community needs.”