The Defense Health Agency officially established the Small Market and Stand Alone Military Treatment Facility Organization, or SSO, during a ceremony at Joint Base San Antonio-Kelly Field, Texas on Dec. 14.
With 20 Direct Reporting Military Health System Markets established within the U.S. during the past year, the DHA has now launched an intermediate management organization to serve the smaller markets, and stand-alone hospitals and clinics that are located outside of the larger market regions.
The SSO is responsible for providing care to an eligible population of 240,000 beneficiaries across 32 states and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The SSO consists of 17 small markets and 68 stand-alone military medical treatment facilities. A primary goal is to standardize health care delivery processes at these facilities.
Currently, larger markets allow groups of military hospitals and clinics in one geographic area to work together with TRICARE partners, Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals, other federal health care organizations, private sector teaching hospitals and medical universities. Markets operate as a system to share patients, staff, budgets, and other functions to improve readiness and the delivery and coordination of health services. The new SSO was established to offer these same benefits to more geographically isolated locations.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to participate in a number of ceremonies across the Military Health System and across the country welcoming new military markets and the hospitals and clinics within them, but this one is different,” said DHA Director Army Lt. Gen. (Dr.) Ronald Place, who hosted the ceremony.
“Today, we’re welcoming a team that includes MTFs from throughout the United States and one in Cuba. The largest of our large markets has less than 35 MTFs – this one has 140 MTFs.”
The facilities the SSO supports account for just over a quarter of all health care encounters within the MHS direct-care system.
What makes the SSO unique is the varying size, scale and scope of these facilities. The cross-service collaboration that existed within the geographic areas where the larger markets now exist will give facilities under the SSO a foundation to build on, Place said.
“We will leverage the knowledge and experience that we have gained from transitioning those large markets and now put our focus here in the small markets and MTFs, where most of our service members actually get their care,” said Place.
“Health care is a local experience, best managed by those of you on the ground, interacting with leaders and our patients directly. But what we aim to achieve is a consistent, standardized approach for our patients and for our health care team.”
Key to that standardization is a system and approach that is consistent from across all facilities, making the transitions that are part of military life easier on both the patients and the personnel.
“That couldn’t be more true than it is in the SSO,” said Place.
The new SSO Director Air Force Maj. Gen. Shanna Woyak added, “From start to finish, the individuals who stood up the SSO have been nothing short of inspiring – the long hours and the work that it takes to put a new organization together. Their commitment to our mission, often on borrowed time, has been noticed."
It took “a leap of faith” for many people to realize what a new and integrated way forward for military medicine would look like and that the SSO is a nuanced part of that future vision, but it is no less important, Woyak said.
“What the SSO does for the medical readiness of the force, because of the numbers, the locations and the integration with the larger force, is collectively greater than what we get at the larger sites,” she said. “Our promise to support the MTFs – we’re going to do that to the best of our ability. We will support you.”
Leadership, Woyak said, has never been more important in military medicine than it is today.
“We will learn from you. We will share with you. We will tirelessly advocate for all of our MTFs and, more importantly, we will lead with purpose. We will lead with collaboration; we will lead with innovation; and we will definitely lead with a vision focused on creating highly effective, highly integrated health care delivery systems.”
What’s comes next for the DHA?
In 2022, the agency will assume management and administration of all overseas MTFs, divided into two regions: DHA Region Indo-Pacific and DHA Region Europe.