Little hands, big hearts: USAF Langley pediatrics treats DOD's littlest patients

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Aubrey White
  • 633rd Air Base Wing Public Affairs
For a parent, one of the most unnerving situations is having a sick child because other than administering medication and comforting the child, there isn't much else they can do.

That's when providers, nurses and medical technicians at the 633rd Medical Operations Squadron pediatrics flight step in.

Located at USAF Hospital Langley, this particular pediatrics flight is led by U.S. Air Force Maj. Aleacha Philson, the pediatrics flight commander of the 633rd MDOS. According to Philson the pediatrics flight has a complex mission that involves treating outpatients, inpatients, emergency department patients and medical surgical unit patients from birth to 18 years old, in addition to seeing babies in the hospital's newly re-opened Level II neonatal intensive-care unit.

"Our providers pull p.m. call to cover NICU emergencies, and of course we have to provide them with crew rest," Philson explained. "It can become challenging at times. We have one of the biggest [Department of Defense] populations for [the Family Member Program] and so when we start looking at specialty care, within our clinic alone, we provide pediatric cardiology, neurology, gastro-intestinal, adolescent and behavioral. It's a lot of moving pieces."

Because the clinic does not fit a mold similar to a civilian practice, Philson said she and hospital leaders recognize the need for a different approach to maintaining operations flow.

"We have civilians, [General Schedule] and contractors," she explained. "We have a high ops tempo for deployment for our NCOs, so what happens is right now we have a civilian and she's a [licensed practical nurse] and she fills those slots for our deployers."

The contract for the LPN is renewed annually so the clinic can meet the needs of the Air Force while continuing to meet the needs of their patients. Philson also noted that the potential for the nurse to quit also presents a challenge. The contractor then has 30 days to provide a new nurse, not only causing one less set of helping hands during that period of time, but Philson must also factor in how long it's going to get someone spun up on the clinic's operations.

"One day a provider had a patient load that she wasn't able to see because she got sick but our commander came down and she took the time to see patients," Philson said of Col. Susan Pietrykowski, the commander of the 633rd Medical Group. "General [Sean] Murphy [command surgeon at Air Combat Command] helps us out if we project that we're only going to have a few providers in the clinic. It's kind of weird seeing a general in the clinic but he interacts and teaches; it's unique experience for our Airmen."

One of the most common misconceptions of the clinic stems from their operations tempo, but her way of combatting that is by doing what she can to support her staff in order to help them better treat their patients, Maj. Philson said.

"How we can improve our access is one of our top priorities. It may take a little while to get an appointment," she explained. "We have to fill deployments, we have to give downtime and we have to take care of our people, but we are creating avenues to where we can free up some of those acute appointments so that parents don't have to take their babies to the ER."

A particular initiative the clinic staff has implemented is having providers meet to analyze their caseloads and determine whether certain patients need to be seen there, if they can be seen at another clinic or even if they can coordinate medication refills over the phone.

Regardless of all of the challenges the clinic faces, Philson emphasized the importance of doing what she can personally to ensure the patients receive the care they deserve.

She remembered an instance when a parent came to visit her to thank the clinic staff for listening to her concerns. Although the mother's 5-year-old daughter ultimately succumbed to a brain tumor, it was Philson's staff that identified the tumor when no other doctors had done so previously.

To contact the pediatric clinic or make an appointment, call the hospital at 225-7630.