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The Haditha Hospital sees about 600 patients a day. Army medical officers and their Navy and Air Force counterparts are working to develop a partnership between the hospital and the 345th Combat Support Hospital at Al Asad Air Base to help the Iraqi medical facility improve its overall quality and availability of care.

Photo by Staff Sgt. Kimberly S. Leone

U.S. military begins partnership with Haditha Hospital

30 Oct 2008 | Staff Sgt. Kimberly S. Leone

U.S. military medical personnel from the 345th Combat Support Hospital aboard Al Asad Air Base have taken the first steps toward establishing a partnership with the Iraqi hospital here.

Army personnel from the 345th along with service members from the Navy and Marine Corps headed to Haditha Hospital Oct. 30 to participate in the first key leadership engagement between the two hospitals.

The partnership is designed to increase the capabilities and quality of care available at Haditha Hospital. During the visit, Army doctors met with Iraqi doctors and hospital administrators to gather information regarding what it will take to return the Iraqi facility to its full capabilities.

The biggest challenges will be to increase the quality of basic services and modernize the facility that deteriorated under Saddam Hussein’s regime, according to Col. Dwight Shen, the key leader engagement team leader and the deputy chief of clinical services at the 345th CSH. Shen described the hospital’s current state as “primitive.”

The 2nd Class Petty Officers Association out of Camp Pendleton, Calif. helped to kick start the partnership between the two hospitals by donating more than 200 medical textbooks to the hospital. Petty Officer 1st Class Jesse Tossetti, a corpsman with 3rd Bn. 7th Marine Regt., participated in the initial visit to the hospital and delivered the textbooks for the association. 

“This partnership can only benefit the local people of Haditha,” said Tossetti.

Initially doctors and corpsman from the U.S. military will focus their efforts on teaching Iraqi medical personnel about basic hygiene, infection control, preventative medicine and the essential skills of basic life support, according to Shen.

“This program needs to use all resources available and is not branch specific,” said Shen. “Depending on what Navy, Marine and Air Force personnel are available, their expertise will be fully utilized in supporting this partnership.”

As Shen and the other members of the engagement team toured the 110-bed facility, they noted the hospital’s dire need for basic technology. Patient rooms and surgical suites often lacked monitors, IV machines and standard operating room equipment. The shortage of modern medical equipment puts the Iraqi doctors at a significant disadvantage, according to Shen.

“Once they get this technology, then they need the knowledge to operate the technology,” added Shen. The partnership will help the Iraqis learn how to acquire and operate new medical equipment.

On average, the approximately 25 doctors at Haditha Hospital see about 600 patients a day.  The doctors are supported by just five nurses, but a nearby nursing school established in 2007 should help improve the deficit of qualified nurses, according to Shen. The school is the first nursing school in Haditha and provides a three-year training program. Two classes of Iraqi women have enrolled at the school since its doors opened, meaning the hospital should have a fresh crop of 46 qualified nurses by early 2010.

“The Iraqi doctors are well-educated and motivated to provide the best care for their patients and to rebuild their healthcare system,” said Shen. 

From Shen’s perspective, U.S. personnel participating in the partnership will also benefit as they learn about the Iraqi healthcare system and contribute to strong, friendly relationships between the two countries.

Shen’s team would like to formalize the partnership within the next few weeks and ensure that it is a program that will continue as U.S. units rotate in and out of the combat support hospital aboard Al Asad Air Base. They’d also like to see the benefits of the program filter out to other Iraqi medical facilities in the region.