There is one thing Judenia Wilson hates about her job at the Harker Heights Medical Home: sticking babies. It breaks her heart, but it also is part of her job.
“I hate seeing those pretty little babies cry,” said the licensed vocational nurse. “They are smiling at you first, and then you have to give them a shot. You do not want to hurt them, but you know it is good for them.”
The torment, however, is just a hiccup in her day at the Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center’s community medical home, a brick and mortar structure tucked behind a prime shopping center.
Stood up five years ago, along with its sister clinics in Killeen and Copperas Cove, the medical homes represent health care as it should be: Convenient, patient-centered and quality focused.
“The clinics were stood up to get clinics closer to our soldier’s families,” said Lisanne Gross, group practice manager at the Harker Heights and Killeen medical homes. “The majority of our patients all live within five miles of each clinic, so this gives them ownership. Most of all, they are happy they do not have to go on post for their care.”
Convenient to Beneficiaries
It is also convenient, since each medical home includes a lab and a pharmacy.
“It takes at least 25 minutes to get to Darnall from Copperas Cove and more than 45 minutes from Kempner or Lampasas,” said Kurt Gustafson, group practice manager for both Copperas Cove Medical Home and Russell Collier Health clinic. “That is a lot of time devoted just for travel. As a retiree, I appreciate the Army’s commitment to providing primary medical care near where I choose to live.”
While the Killeen Medical Home is a stand-alone building, the Harker Heights and Copperas Cove medical homes seamlessly blend in with other retail spaces. Not until beneficiaries walk inside do they realize that the centrally located homes are an extension of military medicine.
“This is Darnall?” said a shocked Keisha Williams as she walked into the Harker Heights clinic for the first time with her 6-year-old ailing son, Ethan. “I had no idea this was here.”
Location, convenience and customer service sold Williams after her first visit at the Harker Heights clinic.
“Whoever thought of this was really thinking about the families,” she said, grateful there was an opening at the clinic so she would not be spending all day waiting in the emergency room. “Sometimes the other facilities become overcrowded, so it is good to have somewhere else to go when you feel your child needs to see someone immediately.”
An empty parking lot puzzled first-time visitor Cherish Whitlock when she walked into her morning appointment at the Killeen home.
“I did not think this was a military facility because it did not look like a military building, plus the parking lot was deserted,” said Whitlock, who was there with her active-duty husband and two boys. “I already like it because it is closer to where I live and I do not have to go on post.”
Once inside the nondescript buildings, it is all about patient experience.
“Patient experience encompasses every touch point from start to finish, beginning with the moment the patient makes an appointment,” said Tracie Duckett-Stephens, chief of Darnall’s revitalized patient-experience department.
“It is all in the people and how you were received. Do you feel welcome?” said Gross, adding that simple customer-service actions define and influence the patient experience.
In fact, those actions earned the Killeen home a “Hood Hero” award as the top service provider during a recent III Corps and Fort Hood Garrison Nov. 7 Hood Heroes ceremony.
“There is a wonderful sense of ownership and pride here,” said Gross, who said she is proud of the energy and passion her staff brings to work every day. “Here, it is the patient who is the center of medical care and not clinic operations or staff convenience.”
The outcome, according to Gross, is better health-care management.
The hands-on care mingled with personal touches have made all the difference in patient-experience improvements, said Wilson, a retired first sergeant, who has been at the Harker Heights clinics for nearly two years.
“This is a family-type environment where we get to know our patients and treat people how we want to be treated,” said Wilson, who as both a patient and an employee during the “old” Darnall days, has witnessed the transformation of Army medicine. “It is all about the patient, and it shows.”
The long waits and the shuffling from doctor to doctor was something Lupita Taoele hated about military medicine. Her experiences at the Harker Heights Clinic, however, made her “like” Army medicine.
“I am 120 percent happier here,” said Taoele, who has been coming to the clinic for more than a year. ”The nurses here give you 110 percent and there is never a long wait. It also is convenient because it saves me so much time. I can pick up my kids at school, come here for a doctor’s appointment and drive them back to school. I truly leave here happy.”
The model of care also promotes happiness in the ranks.
For Harker Heights physician Dr. Kanaka Paladugu, the bonus in working in a Darnall medical home is staffing.
“I have a staff that helps me do what is needed,” said the former Army lab technician turned doctor. “This way, I am able to spend more time with the patients and give them more personal care.”
This evolution in Army Medicine is really how medicine should be, said Wilson, who also is a beneficiary at the Killeen home.
“Building these facilities and putting people in place to serve our needs shows that someone cares and demonstrates the Army’s commitment to taking care of our families,” said Wilson, adding how honored she is that her position allows her to continue servicing a military population. “It really is a wonderful thing.”
Darnall plans to open a fourth community medical home in south Killeen, although no date has been confirmed. It will be called Heart of Texas Medical Home.