An $11.3 million remodeling at the Fairchild Air Force Base hospital is creating a unique contract between the military and Sacred Heart Medical Center.
Air Force doctors and nurses will perform surgery at Sacred Heart for much of next year while part of the base hospital is closed for renovation.
Starting in mid-February, Sacred Heart will set aside two operating rooms and as many as 15 patient rooms for Air Force members, their families or retirees covered by the military’s medical insurance.
The base’s surgical suites will be out of commission for seven to nine months to get upgraded electrical systems that can handle new generations of computers and medical equipment, better safety systems and air conditioning.
The base will move 48 nurses, medical technicians and administrative staffers to the downtown medical center for at least seven months.
During that period, some 10 Air Force surgeons will have hospital privileges at Sacred Heart, where they will repair broken bones, remove cataracts and tonsils and perform other surgeries recommended by the base’s family physicians.
“We’re really pleased to do it,” said Marilyn Thordarson, Sacred Heart spokeswoman. “We think the close working relationship (between military and civilian medical staffs) will benefit the community and the base.”
Carol Sheridan, Sacred Heart vice president of nursing, said the hospital has space available in one unit because neurological services have been consolidated in the hospital.
Sacred Heart competed with Deaconess Medical Center for the contract to provide the surgical space to the military’s insurance carrier, Foundation Health Federal Services.
The total cost to the taxpayers for the contract is not yet known because some of the details on fees are still being negotiated. The cost will depend on the number of patients sent to Sacred Heart, and the types of surgeries they will need.
The base and the medical center are estimating as many as 125 patients per month will receive surgery at Sacred Heart.
But Curt Davis, a spokesman for Foundation Health, estimated the arrangement could save taxpayers as much as $500,000 over simply referring Fairchild patients to civilian physicians during the remodeling project. That’s one way that other bases in similar situations have handled surgery patients during temporary shut-downs.
Permanent agreements to allow military medical staff to use a civilian hospital are rare, Davis said. This is the first temporary agreement the insurance company has ever negotiated.
Sacred Heart will charge Foundation Health a reduced rate for the patients because some of the services will be performed by military doctors and nurses.
The contract is similar to what hospitals negotiate with health maintenance organizations.
Agreements like the one between the base and Sacred Heart may become more common around the country, said Col. Steve Nall, chief of medical staff at the base hospital and deputy commander of the 92nd Medical Group.
The military is reviewing its medical needs, he said. Last year, Fairchild began referring military members or their spouses to civilian doctors for obstetrics care, because the Air Force has a shortage of doctors in that specialty.
“It’s being looked at for all types of care,” Nall said. We’re looking hard to make the right decisions to save the taxpayers money.”