TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – Lt. Col. Patrick Kennedy, 60th Medical Group Lab and Pathology Flight commander at Travis Air Force Base, California, has been awarded the Bronze Star Medal for meritorious achievement while deployed to Craig Joint Theater Hospital at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, from October 2017 to May 2018. He credits the medal to his team.
“I was very fortunate to have the people I had,” said Kennedy. “They came up with the ideas; my job was to make sure we put them in place.”
The Bronze Star Medal is awarded to members of the U.S. armed forces for heroic achievement, heroic service, meritorious achievement or meritorious service in a combat zone.
Although the hospital did not suffer any direct hits during his deployment, it was targeted two to five times per month. The enemy’s goal was to reduce the number of military members returning to duty, said Kennedy.
While assigned as the Diagnostics and Therapeutics Flight commander with the 455th Air Expeditionary Wing, Kennedy and his team not only increased efficiency at the hospital, they also helped increase patient survival rates from 98 percent to 99.23 percent.
According to the citation, Kennedy’s expertise was particularly evident in the lab where he improved diagnostic capability, lab results and quality assurance.
“The doctors in the trauma bay would give us a syringe of blood and we would analyze the basic chemistry so the doctors could determine a course of treatment,” said Kennedy.
“But over time, there was no quality control over the system. We implemented a program to make sure the equipment was properly maintained and calibrated so we could be confident in the results.”
Kennedy also collaborated with Master Sgt. John Cardenas, 60th MDG lab technician and flight chief during the deployment, to develop a form that reduced the amount of paperwork and time needed to request blood products.
The team also revised the mass transfusion protocol, which reduced the time between the surgeon’s request for blood and the blood being delivered to the operating room.
The previous MTP required the person picking up the blood to jointly inspect the trauma package with the lab technician, sign for it and rush it to the operating room.
“We changed the MTP so two lab techs could certify blood type and the number of units ahead of time so, when the surgeon requested blood, the technician only had to sign for it and go,” said Cardenas. “This cut the delivery time from 12 to 15 minutes to 3.5 minutes, which is huge when a patient is bleeding out.”
Another change standardized the ratio of blood components in the trauma packs based on U.S. hospital standards.
“By communicating directly with the provider, we cut blood waste loss by 75 percent, saving about $84,000 per year and increasing the amount of blood available to the multinational task force,” said Kennedy.
CJTH is a Role III combat medical hospital providing care to U.S. and coalition forces, U.S. contractors and Afghan soldiers and civilians injured as a direct result of combat operations. The hospital is staffed and equipped to provide resuscitation, initial wound surgery, damage control surgery and post-operative treatment.
“Now that the U.S. mission is basically training and advising, most of our patients were Afghan special forces members and civilians,” said Kennedy.
His flight was composed of 16 Air Force members, including five other Airmen from the 60th MDG at Travis: Master Sgt. Will Weisenburg and Senior Airman Justin Ritzel, diagnostic imaging; Tech Sgt. Rob Thomas, pharmacy technician; Senior Airman Jacob Bigari, lab technician; and Tech Sgt. Dwayne Salmon, nutritional medicine.
“I wouldn’t have been as successful without these guys,” said Kennedy.
For example, he credited Salmon with reinstating a clear liquid diet for patients and introducing Afghan-specific foods to the menu for the first time in 17 years.
Nutrition is essential to patients regaining their strength, said Salmon, who was responsible for both staff and patient diets.
“Colonel Kennedy got the ball rolling by asking the right questions and setting up meetings with the (U.S.) Army logistics officer,” he said. “We also met with the food services chief to discuss options for patient meals because the Afghans didn’t like our food.”
Kennedy credited Thomas with implementing an allergy alert system to flag patients in the pharmacy computers and Bigari with implementing the first in theater use of the U.S. Army’s Safe Access File Exchange – an encrypted website – to send test results to forward operating bases. Previously, the lab mailed results, which could take up to six weeks for delivery.
“I had the advantage of being the lab director at David Grant USAF Medical Center we were named the (international) Medical Laboratory of the Year in 2017, so the administration accepted our changes,” said Kennedy.
For instance, U.S. Central Command is in the process of adopting the revised blood request form and the units in Kandahar, Afghanistan, have instituted the allergy alert system as a best practice initiative, said Kennedy.
“Sometimes you get the right synergy when all the pieces come together,” he said. “I was fortunate in that aspect. Our people were focused on the mission: ‘We are here to save lives. ’”