By K. Richard Douglas
The Joint Base San Antonio (JBSA) “services more DOD students than any other installation, more active runways than any other installation, houses the DOD’s largest hospital and only level one trauma center,” according to its website.
The imaging service team in the Wilford Hall Ambulatory Surgery Clinic at Joint Base San Antonio, Lackland Air Force Base, Texas provide services in support of the Air Force’s basic military training mission, as well as to military beneficiaries across San Antonio, one of the largest medical markets in the military.
“The 59th Medical Logistics Squadron Clinical Engineering Flight is the largest medical maintenance activity in the Air Force Medical System,” says SMSgt Christopher Espinosa, superintendent of Clinical Engineering at 59 MLRS/SGSKM.
Espinosa says that they are responsible for medical and dental imaging equipment assigned at six geographically separated locations across San Antonio, Texas.
“The organization is made up of 51 military/civil service and contract technicians. Three military and three civilian technicians make up medical imaging,” Espinosa says.
“We are a part of a Joint Base San Antonio family so we also service three other bases in our city as well as bases in surrounding states,” he adds.
The team takes care of several modalities across a large area.
“The imagining equipment we service in our facility are spread throughout six facilities across San Antonio impacting nine departments which include pulmonary/cardiology, emergency room, operating room, X-ray, CT, MRI, ultrasound, women’s health and mammography. We also provide technical support and annual calibration services to 15 facilities in a five-state area,” says Tracy Wilhelm.
He is one of the group’s two main X-ray techs, along with SSgt Donnell Johnson.
“We currently have four CTs and four MRIs, seven direct capture units, one rad flouro room, two portables, 10 C-arms, 100 dental intraoral units, 10 dental panograms and four dental CT units,” Johnson says.
Espinosa says that the technicians have all been trained by specific manufacturers on modalities or military-provided advanced imaging courses.
“Additionally, all active duty members rotate through the imaging section for hands-on unit-specific training. In addition, we have nine medical material personnel who procure all medical equipment used to support medical equipment,” he says.
Johnson says that the team services a wide range of imaging medical equipment [including] dental X-ray, dental CT, mobile C-arms, diagnostic ultrasound and more complex units such as digital mammography, CT and MRI.
He says that the purchase of all new equipment is driven by an in-house technical assessment section. The section works hand in hand with all users to identify requirements and develop market requirements.
“Our Medical Equipment Management Office procures funding and works with our contracting department to purchase systems. Our imaging section oversees installation and testing for all new systems,” Johnson says.
The team is trained to handle most imaging equipment and only infrequently needs some support.
“Our imaging team is trained on all imaging devices within our area of responsibility. Occasionally we will request manufacturer support for irregular issues which we determine beyond the normal request, this rarely is the case,” Johnson says.
“With the exception of warrantied items with extended service agreements, our staff maintains our imaging devices,” Johnson adds.
He says that with the use of the maintenance agreements, the team is allowed to sustain all of their medical treatment facilities’ imaging devices.
The imaging staff stays up-to-date on changes in equipment through continuous training.
“We recognize that as technology advances, being up to date and knowledgeable is extremely important. Our process of procuring new equipment, including imaging systems, involves purchasing manufacturers’ service schools,” Wilhelm says.
“Ninety percent of our imaging equipment is maintained in-house without service contacts. The remaining systems are maintained through a shared maintenance agreement where we attempt to rectify the issue prior to contractor intervention,” Wilhelm adds.
In addition to supporting the day-to-day well-being of airmen, other service members and their families, the imaging department has been involved in some important projects.
“A new MRI was purchased for use to support medical research. The system will support normal patient care when not required for research. Many design requirements had to be developed, in collaboration with the primary user, manufacturer and construction company to accommodate health care accreditation requirements in addition to medical research protocols,” Wilhelm says.
He says that thanks to the efforts of the imaging section, they were able to remove a 15-year-old MRI unit, accomplish all necessary construction modifications and install the new unit four weeks ahead of schedule.
The team has also helped to problem solve.
“We recently moved from a 60-year-old facility in to a new state-of-the-art clinic. The targeted timeline was to move 66 clinics/3,500 personnel in a 90-day period,” Wilhelm says.
He explains that the new facility’s layout was much more constricted than the old facility.
“This caused a lot of space and power issues. Most sections were satisfied with their decreased floor plans, but required the majority of equipment they had in the old building. This increased energy consumption in a confined space resulting in unexpected equipment breakdown and unstable facility power supply systems. Due to their knowledge, our BMETs were able to assist our customers with actual mission needs versus wants and pare down redundant equipment,” Wilhelm says.
Wilhelm says that with the technological advances in medical equipment, they have had to adjust over the years to accommodate more medical devices which connect to the network.
“Due to this increase, we have sent multiple technicians to school to earn their Security+ certification. This has allowed our techs certain admin rights to the network, resulting in not only better maintenance capabilities, but a better working relationship with our in-house IT dept,” Wilhelm adds.
When away from the workplace, Wilhelm says that the team has multiple technicians involved with AAMI and CompTIA certifications.
For those patients who require diagnostic imaging at Lackland Air Force Base, or any of the affiliated locations around San Antonio, they can know that the equipment needed for their care will be working thanks to a dedicated team of professionals.