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VCU Health expands partnership with U.S. Navy to improve trauma care, disaster response

Health care professionals from Naval Medical Center Portsmouth (NMCP), comprised of personnel from Navy Medicine Readiness and Training Command Portsmouth (NMRTC) Portsmouth and Expeditionary Medical Facility (EMF) Juliet, will join the civilian medical team at VCU Medical Center’s Level I trauma center with the shared goal of reaching zero preventable trauma-related deaths, both on the battlefield and back home.

Doctors examining together in lab Lt. JG Robin Stephens, ICU nurse, and Lt. Honey Mae Ilustrisimo, OR nurse, prep items in the Evans-Haynes Burn Center at VCU Health. (VCU Enterprise Marketing and Communications)

VCU Medical Center and Naval Medical Center Portsmouth (NMCP) have partnered to create an integrated military civilian trauma system that aims to share best practices on civilian and battlefield trauma care.

Through the program, military trauma teams and providers will be integrated within VCU Medical Center’s Level I trauma center to gain exposure to treating critically injured patients, increasing force readiness, and enhancing Expeditionary Core Skills for future deployments. At the same time, military medical professionals will teach best practices from the battlefield to VCU Health providers to further advance civilian trauma care and disaster preparedness. The partnership, which officially started last week with the arrival of the first group of nurses, also includes academic and research initiatives. 

“The addition of military colleagues will significantly enhance the skills and knowledge of our medical professionals at VCU Health. It also gives military health professionals the unique opportunity to train at one of the top trauma centers in the country to strengthen and sustain their readiness to deploy,” said Michel Aboutanos, M.D., MPH, medical director of VCU Medical Center’s Level I trauma center and Trauma System Network.

The partnership allows military personnel, including Navy medics, Corpsmen, technicians, nurses, certified registered nurse anesthetists and physicians, to enhance their trauma response skills by rotating through VCU Medical Center’s trauma and burn centers. VCU Medical Center has the only Level I trauma center in the region verified in adult, pediatric and burn trauma care, and is home to the oldest and most active civilian burn center in the United States. Annually, the medical center delivers trauma care to more than 4,000 severely injured patients. 

Doctors work together on foot

The first cohort of nurses practice how to cover a burn wound at the Evans-Haynes Burn Center at VCU Health. Left to right: Lt. JG Robin Stephens, an ICU nurse, Lt. JG Pierce Shivley, ER nurse, and Lt. Honey Mae Ilustrisimo, OR nurse. (VCU Enterprise Marketing and Communications)

Traumatic injury is the leading cause of death in the United States for children and adults under age 44, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Several life-saving innovations that stem from combat casualty care in the U.S. military have shown to improve treatment in civilian hospitals.

“Our goal is to meet and exceed Navy Medicine’s knowledge, skills and abilities sustainment requirements, developing and maintaining expeditionary core skills, and proliferating operational readiness,” said Capt. Linda Smith, EMF-J commanding officer. “Our first clinical rotations are a proof-of-concept training model. It will focus on three nurses (emergency medicine, operating room, and critical care) starting in July for six weeks, to obtain specialized burn/wound and trauma care.”

“Throughout the clinical rotation, we will obtain objective information on the rotation plan and skills development so we can modify future rotations to ensure our staff is receiving high-yield expeditionary core skills development and sustainment. After the nursing proof of concept has been evaluated, we will expand the rotations to physicians, corpsmen, and other allied health specialties.  This will ensure the development of well-rounded expeditionary core skills that will be vital in any future military campaign as it pertains to Navy Medicine,” Capt. Smith added. 

“The military health care workforce is well trained, highly skilled and tremendously motivated,” said Marlon Levy, M.D., interim senior vice president for VCU Health Sciences and interim CEO of VCU Health System. “Our partnership allows military personnel to practice in busy environments to keep the clinical edge they’ll need when they deploy to care for US forces and our coalition allies – particularly in war zones. We will all benefit tremendously from this partnership.”

NMRTC Portsmouth is a premier readiness and training platform that provides superior medical training for military medical service members at the U.S. military’s oldest, continuously operating military hospital. Since 1830, NMCP, a nationally acclaimed, state-of-the-art military treatment facility, along with the area's 10 branch health and TRICARE Prime Clinics, provides medical care for warfighters and their families. It also supports premier research and teaching programs designed to prepare new doctors, nurses and hospital corpsmen for combat operations and public health crises.

The full integration of Navy teams goes beyond clinical care delivery and includes working together on quality improvement, civilian disaster preparation and response plans.

“The partnership will broadly benefit the Richmond community and the commonwealth of Virginia,” said Michael Roussos, president of VCU Medical Center. “Many research discoveries and significant lessons learned in combat settings can be applied to urban and rural trauma management. Additionally, military experience in emergency preparedness and disaster management will be essential to enhance the emergency and disaster response system in Central Virginia.”

VCU Health and Virginia Commonwealth University have a history of advancing trauma care for battlefield settings. For example, Quick Clot Combat Gauze, one of the game-changing innovations developed for combat casualty care and brought to scale during the U.S. military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, is based on a technology developed by VCU researchers.

The establishment of military-civilian trauma partnerships aims to reduce the number of preventable deaths from traumatic injuries both on the battlefield and back home. In the fall of 2022, VCU Medical Center was the only central Virginia recipient of a new U.S. Department of Health & Human Services “Mission Zero” grant, aimed at improving trauma care by combining the strengths of civilian hospitals and military trauma systems. The academic medical center received the Military-Civilian Partnership for Trauma Readiness grant along with 24 other hospitals across the country.

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