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Navy corpsmen are preparing for the next war in civilian hospitals

Hospitalman Jonathan Cordova and Hospitalman Matthew Maxwell, two sailors participating in Navy Medicine's Hospital Corpsman Trauma Training, re-position a patient at UF Health Jacksonville on March 12, 2019. (Jacob Sippel/U.S. Navy/TNS)

The next war the Navy finds itself in could bring the first significant sea battles since World War II.

That means the heart of the Navy’s medical community — hospital corpsmen — must be prepared to treat patients with major trauma in a chaotic environment with no guarantee of being able to quickly airlift them to a land-based hospital.

As the service shifts its focus away from the war on terrorism and toward major powers like Russia and China, its corpsmen are preparing in a different way: Embedding with civilian hospitals where treating gunshots, burn victims and other severe wounds is commonplace.

The Navy has recently entered into partnerships with a handful of hospitals around the country to get some of its top corpsmen hands-on experience.

“If a ship takes a hit, you can expect there will be many, many, many casualties. And you can expect to see things that we didn’t see in Afghanistan. So burns, smoke inhalation, things like that,” Vice Adm. Forrest Faison, the Navy’s surgeon general, said during a recent interview at Naval Medical Center Portsmouth. “Perhaps if they’re in the water, hypothermia, in addition to traumatic amputations as metal flies and bulkheads collapse. … And that’s what we’ve geared the curriculum toward, is to be able to deal with those.”

About 30 corpsmen at a time are being embedded at the Cook County Trauma Unit in Chicago.

“That’s what the show ‘ER’ is based on and it’s like that,” Faison said. “We let them get an amazing traumatic experience up there.”

The program has also expanded to a hospital in Cleveland and one in Jacksonville, Fla., which just graduated its first group of 16 corpsmen in late March. Each graduate had prior experience at a military medical treatment facility like Naval Medical Center Portsmouth.

Seaman Lashaun Limbrick was one of the first to go through the five-week program at University of Florida Health Jacksonville. He said it was fast-paced and each day was different.

They treated gunshot and stab wounds, heart attacks, strokes and boating injuries, among other things.

“If I didn’t have that type of training or experience, whenever I’m on my own with the Marines downrange maybe I would freeze or something,” Limbrick said. “So I feel like this is a real big confidence booster for me.”

Faison wants to create additional partnerships with hospitals in New York, Seattle and Dallas. The Navy doesn’t have a partnership with any local hospitals in Virginia, but he said he’s open to that possibility.

Cmdr. Ligia Villajuana, the officer in charge of the program at the Florida hospital, said training at a Level I trauma center is rare for military personnel and she recommends it to others in the medical community.

“These are the patients that our corpsmen, our nurses, our doctors will get to see in the field,” Villajuana said. “It prepares them mentally and physically.”

Whenever sailors are seriously injured at sea off Virginia, they’re airlifted to Norfolk Sentara General Hospital — the only Level 1 trauma center in the region. But some day, they could be sent to Naval Medical Center Portsmouth instead.

“We’re very interested in providing trauma services because I’ve got a medical center here with all the major specialties and trauma surgeons,” Faison said. “So absolutely, if there was interest in the community and support from the community, I think we’d be very interested in doing that.”

Faison said there’s a similar arrangement already in place with a trauma center at Camp Lejeune, N.C. That facility is permitted to treat military personnel and civilians from the nearby community, such as people injured by farming equipment. The center has treated about 850 trauma cases in the past year.


© 2019 The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, Va.)

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.