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Health, Science, Environment

Scott Air Force Base Is Woven Into Many Parts Of The St. Louis Region, Including Its Medical Community

 Air force medics treat a life sized mannequin a during a Center for the Sustainment of Trauma and Readiness Skills simulation at St. Louis University. Active duty medics must undergo such training every two years.
St. Louis University
Air Force medics treat a life-size mannequin a during a Center for the Sustainment of Trauma and Readiness Skills simulation at St. Louis University. Active-duty medics must undergo such training every two years.

Scott Air Force Base is well known as an economic anchor in the Metro East, with connections to the surrounding communities where many active-duty personnel and their families live.

The base also has less obvious, but equally deep, connections to other parts of the St. Louis region, like its robust medical community.

A prime example lies in the Air Force’s Center for the Sustainment of Trauma and Readiness Skills, C-STARS, which trains and exposes Air Force medical personnel to scenarios they’ll likely experience when deployed.

Every two years, medics travel to a large U.S. hospital where they participate in medical simulations and shadow local medical professionals, said Maj. Stephen Ray, the deputy director of C-STARS St. Louis. The Air Force also has such partnerships in Baltimore, Cincinnati, Omaha and Las Vegas, he said.

“The kinds of injuries that we see in our military hospitals, we only see when we’re deployed or when we come to readiness places like this,” Ray said. “These are the places, like St. Louis, that our medical personnel need to stay current.”

In one recent simulation at St. Louis University, a group of nurses and one doctor balance caring for two “patients,” one whose left leg is in a tourniquet and another who’s suffered a blast from an improvised explosive device. The patients are mannequins, but the medics don’t treat the injuries any less seriously.

“The simulations are designed based on feedback from the field,” Ray said. “The instructors, like myself, and others at different sites across the country have gotten together and said, ‘What patient injuries have we seen that we need to replicate here?’”

While C-STARS officially is run from Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio, Scott played a role in the program’s establishment 20 years ago.

The initial idea for the program came from Col. Michael Hayek, a doctor who developed a medical skills training laboratory at DePaul Hospital in St. Louis County, Ray said. In 2000, Hayek pitched the idea to Dr. Paul K. Carlton Jr., the surgeon general of the Air Force at the time, who committed to expanding the model, he added.

C-STARS St. Louis was established a year later at SLU Hospital thanks largely to the relationships Carlton built while at Scott Air Force Base between 1988 and 1991, said Dr. Carl Freeman, the trauma medical division director at SSM Health St. Louis University Hospital.

“He realized that Air Force personnel needed further trauma training and reached out to SLU to work with the university and the hospital,” he said.

Freeman, who served 21 years in the Air Force, experienced how crossing between the medical and military environment aided him as a young surgeon.

“It allowed me to have exposure to trauma patients, including ones that are shot and correlate the care I provide here to overseas,” he said.

Since retiring from the military in 2016, Freeman sees the medics from the Air Force and Missouri Air National Guard who rotate through the hospital. The unfortunate reality of gun violence in St. Louis provides an important perspective for the medics who shadow doctors in the emergency department, he said.

“The major thing people say they take away from this is how to take care of a very sick patient and not be scared,” Freeman said. “A lot of these people have never seen these type of injuries, and it’s really important for them to learn how to take care of them and not be distracted by the injury.”

More direct involvement in Illinois

Scott is also closely involved with St. Elizabeth's Hospital’s three-year family residency program. Eight of the 14 residents the hospital welcomes each year are on active military duty, said Dr. Marjorie Guthrie, who directs the program.

“Having the residency partnered with the United States Air Force does give us more manpower, and more manpower means more patients seen,” she said.

St. Elizabeth’s also gets instructors from Scott adding a layer of depth to the hospital’s courses, Guthrie said. She added that the military has a good focus on alternative medicine with some of the faculty from the base bringing expertise on acupuncture and osteopathic manipulation, for example.

While some Air Force members use the medical facilities on base, others turn to what’s available in the surrounding community. Scott’s proximity also broadens the type of people residents care for, something Guthrie said is important for family medicine, since those doctors are trained to treat a wide age spectrum.

“If you think about resident education as an opportunity to see diverse health care systems, then being exposed to the military system is just one of them,” she said. “You’re not just working with underserved patients, or you’re not just working with military patients. You get a good, broad variety.”

Eric Schmid covers the Metro East for St. Louis Public Radio as part of the journalism grant program: Report for America, an initiative of The GroundTruth Project.

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