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Medical group tackles provider shortage

LITTLE ROCK AIR FORCE BASE, Ark. -- Deployments, permanent changes of stations and separations are a normal part of military life, but Little Rock Air Force Base members will now have to get used to the changes in a way that affects how they are seen at the 314th Medical Group.
As of next week, the base will be short manned in the pediatric, family practice and flight medicine clinics, said Lt. Col. Rachel Vlk, 314th Medical Operations Squadron deputy commander. One has deployed and others have PCS'd or separated, leaving less than 10 providers to see the more than 200 patients a day that need care, she said.
The solution to fixing the problem may seem easy (get more providers), but even that has become a challenge.
"We have been working on this since before the losses happened," said Lt. Col. Jack Kennedy, 314th MDOS commander. "We've called in providers TDY from other bases, ... worked with the community to get our patients seen (off base) and are aggressively working to hire civilian providers."
So far the results have helped, but sometimes weren't enough. That's when the other providers and their staffs came up with other ideas to help with the backlog of patients needing to be seen.
The pediatric clinic, recently down an extra provider due to an emergency leave, had a waiting list of well-baby and other non-emergency patients that didn't seem to be growing shorter. The team's solution - set up a Saturday clinic to see these patients.
It worked.
Because of their sacrifice, "We are now caught up on the well-baby clinics, and we're getting our patients seen," said Colonel Vlk.
Their efforts have impressed their leaders in this time of need.
"(The providers) are dedicated to their patients. They come in early, work through lunch, stay late - all on their own accord," she said. "They know the crisis we are in, and they know there's hope towards the end of summer."
"We have a phenomenal medical group," said Colonel Kennedy.
With all the challenges and the dedication of the staff, Little Rock AFB members are being asked for their help as well.
"We're asking for their patience, ... and their help in keeping their appointments." said Colonel Kennedy. If they miss them, they are taking away an appointment from someone else who needs care as well, he said.
"And we just want all our patients to get the world-class care they deserve," he said.
Parents of children needing school or sports physicals can also help by making one phone call.
"If they let us know as soon as possible they need a physical, we will get them in," said Colonel Vlk, "but if they wait until the last minute, the wait will be longer."
While it can be frustrating waiting to get an appointment, being seen downtown or having to juggle leave days, Little Rock AFB is prepared to meet this challenge head on.
"We're going to work through this, but we're also going to meet the needs of the population," said Colonel Kennedy.
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