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NMC Camp Lejeune: 75 years of service expands to civilian community

Naval Medical Center Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, North Carolina, was commissioned as Naval Hospital Camp Lejeune in May 1943. Today, the medical center serves a military-connected community of approximately 155,000. (Courtesy photo) Naval Medical Center Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, North Carolina, was commissioned as Naval Hospital Camp Lejeune in May 1943. Today, the medical center serves a military-connected community of approximately 155,000. (Courtesy photo)

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Combine 3,682 lab procedures, 1,764 clinic appointments, 3,565 prescriptions filled, 534 radiology exams, 18 surgeries, 15 patient admissions, and five births, and what does it equal? One typical day at Naval Medical Center Camp Lejeune. Health care providers at this Jacksonville, North Carolina, facility have served a military-connected community for 75 years. With verification since February as a Level III trauma center, they now treat civilian emergency patients as well.

The verification, from the American College of Surgeons Committee on Trauma, means the medical center has proven it can provide 24-hour, immediate assistance from emergency medicine physicians, and prompt coverage from general surgeons and anesthesiologists. About 400 civilian trauma patients have been treated at NMC Camp Lejeune since the verification was received, said Navy Capt. Shelley Perkins, executive officer of the medical facility.

“We’re proud of our partnerships with local, regional, and VA medical organizations as we became a verified Level III trauma center,” he said, adding that the state of North Carolina helped the medical center “establish a strong framework for our role in Eastern North Carolina’s system of trauma care.”

“Our health care personnel treat a high volume of the most critically injured patients and manage casualties in a similar way we manage those on the battlefield,” Perkins said, “so we stay ready to deploy.”

While there are other facilities in the Military Health System that are verified as trauma centers, this verification is the first for a Navy medical facility, said Navy Capt. James Hancock, an emergency physician and commanding officer of NMC Lejeune. He said the designation benefits the public while providing valuable learning opportunities for military health care professionals.

“Our providers get exposure to the full scope of care, and that helps us keep our skills sharp,” Hancock said.

Naval Hospital Camp Lejeune was commissioned in May 1943 at what was then the East Coast Marine Corps Training Center. Today, the medical center serves a military-connected community of approximately 155,000. The majority, 43 percent, are dependents of active-duty sailors and Marines. Another 38 percent are active-duty members, and 1 percent are dependent survivors. About 18 percent are retirees and their family members.

The number of medical center personnel has more than quadrupled in 75 years. Today, the staff of 2,448 includes almost 1,100 active-duty health care providers who’ve deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan, and Kuwait, among other hot spots.

“I have more kids running around here with Purple Hearts, Bronze Stars, and Silver Stars than you’ve probably seen at any other institution,” Hancock said. “These are folks who’ve lived it, been there, done that during the past 16 years of war.”

Those “been there, done that” folks include Hancock himself. He’s deployed a dozen times in his 36-year career, including a 2008 deployment in Afghanistan with the 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment. While there, he developed and deployed mobile trauma bays. But he also sustained a traumatic brain injury, or TBI, and other wounds when an explosion hurled him into a radio tower.

Hancock said that TBI was a defining moment in his medical career, and in his life. He knows firsthand the valuable work that goes on at the Intrepid Spirit Concussion Recovery Center, which opened on the grounds of Camp Lejeune in 2011. The center is part of the 22-site network of the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center, which is the TBI center of excellence for the Defense Health Agency.

“I’ve been a patient at the Intrepid Center, and that makes me a huge advocate for all that goes on there,” Hancock said. “It’s an absolutely amazing concept. A multitalented staff of 50 – psychologists, psychiatrists, internal medicine, art therapists, physical therapists – are brought together in one building.”

Hancock says when patients arrive on their first day, “Everyone who’s going to treat you is in the room with you, and you tell your story one time. And then at the end of every day of treatment, those providers get together and share notes on how you did throughout your day. Everybody is in the know. Everybody is working synergistically to get you better.”

The Intrepid Center works with many members of special operations forces, Hancock said, and has achieved a return-to-duty rate of more than 80 percent.

July marks Hancock’s second year as the medical center’s commanding officer, and it’s also his last. In August, he leaves for his latest assignment: assistant deputy chief of Healthcare Operations at the U.S. Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery in Falls Church, Virginia.

Hancock says he’ll miss watching the sun set over the New River while sitting on his deck with his wife and dog – he also has two grown children – but he’s confident in NMC Lejeune’s future.

“I think Naval Medical Center Camp Lejeune will continue to be a standout in the Military Health System,” he said, “and a legacy of military medicine.”

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