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Medical Support Summit brings senior leaders to Cannon

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Alexcia Givens
  • 27th Special Operations Wing Public Affairs

The Commander of Air Force Special Operations Command, Lt. Gen. Tony Bauernfeind, hosted a Medical Support Summit at Cannon Air Force Base, N.M., Sept. 25-26. The event brought a significant number of key stakeholders to the installation to discuss medical support for Air Commandos and their families. 

Participants included:  

  • Secretary Patrick Allen, New Mexico Department of Health 
  • Mr. Troy McIntosh, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Reserve Affairs 
  • Dr. Brian Lein, Defense Health Agency Assistant Director of Healthcare Administration 
  • Chief Master Sgt. Tanya Johnson, Defense Health Agency/SEL 
  • Ms. Gina DeBlassie, Health Policy Advisor, New Mexico Office of the Governor 
  • Brig. Gen. Alfred Flowers, Director, Manpower, Personnel and Resources, and Chief of the Medical Service Corps, Office of the Air Force Surgeon General 
  • Brig. Gen. Matthew Henry, Asst Adjutant General, New Mexico Air National Guard 
  • Ms. Tammy Hern, Chief of the Exceptional Assignment Programs division 
  • Mr. Noah Knisely, Vice Pres Reg Deliv Syst Ops, Presbyterian Healthcare Services 
  • Mr. Bill Priest, Plains Regional Medical Center Hospital Chief Executive  

Cannon AFB is essential to Air Force Special Operations Command’s power projection capability and capacity. As such, the quality of life of Air Commandos is critical to AFSOC’s mission success. To this end, the two-day event was planned and executed to intentionally identify barriers and facilitate solutions to improve healthcare for Cannon AFB personnel and families. 

“We have to take care of our Air Commandos so they can take care of the mission,” Bauernfeind said. “Our Air Commandos and their families need access to specialty medical care, and it’s important that we continue to advocate for that.” 

Cannon AFB leadership is focused on numerous initiatives to combat specialty healthcare access, including partnering with local and state officials to increase specialty care in the region and expanding TRICARE network services. 

During the summit, Bauernfeind and Chief Master Sgt. Anthony Green, AFSOC Command Chief, facilitated engagements focused on Cannon’s specialty healthcare limitations.  These types of engagements reinforce the needs of Air Commandos and their families to stakeholders who influence resources and policy decisions. 

“No one person is going to solve the complex (specialized healthcare) challenges that are facing Cannon Air Force Base,” said Dr. Brian Lein, Assistant Director of Healthcare Administration for the Defense Health Agency. “It's going to take a concerted effort by everybody to look at what is available in the community, what we are able to move here from a military perspective and what we are able to hire from the Defense Health Agency.” 

The 27th Special Operations Medical Group supports the health and readiness needs of a high-tempo mission and isolated military community; however, it has limited in-house specialty care capabilities that can be offered to Cannon families and operations, impacting the base’s mission readiness. 

“We realize the uniqueness of Cannon. Some of the challenges, whether it be for rural health care or some of the ongoing initiatives -- that we need to partner with the state on for legislation, as well as partnering with the Defense Health Agency,” said Brig. Gen. Alfred Flowers, Director, Manpower, Personnel and Resources, and Chief of the Medical Service Corps, Office of the Air Force Surgeon General. “We know how impactful the mission is here and every Airman, every family member, counts to propel that mission.” 

The shortfalls in several specialties like Behavioral Health, Applied Behavior Analysis, Neurology and Endocrinology affect the 27th SOMDG's ability to provide care on-station. Specialty care near Cannon AFB is typical for a rural community, meaning families travel an average of 147 miles for consultations and treatment. The annual cost of specialty care travel for Cannon service members and their families exceeds $750,000 this year and is projected to increase next year as leadership encourages Airmen to file for the reimbursements they are entitled to.   

Recently, the Defense Health Agency provided $1.9 million to fund a Clinical Nurse, Mental Health Technician, Child and Adolescent Therapist, Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist, Behavioral Health Provider, Obstetrician Case Manager, Dental Hygienist, Phlebotomist and referral clerks at Cannon’s medical clinic. 

In an attempt to bridge the gap, multiple Air Force and TRICARE virtual medical capabilities have been piloted  to provide services that would alleviate the need for some active-duty service members and their dependents to travel for care.  

"We need to ensure the Airmen are ready to go in a moment’s notice and that they can rest assured when they are deploying that there is support for their families going to be left behind here,” Lein said. “That is our number one requirement – to make sure that happens.”