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Officials Launch Family-Centered Care Initiative

By K.L. Vantran
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Aug. 29, 2003 – Few occasions are more joyous or stressful than the birth of a child, said David S.C. Chu, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, as Defense Department officials launched the new family-centered care initiative at National Naval Medical Center, Bethesda, Md., Aug. 27. The new TRICARE Management Activity program offers expectant mothers and their families standardized services from the first obstetric visit through birth and follow-on pediatric care. This includes inviting fathers and children to participate in prenatal visits and the birth of the child, as well as reserved parking spots -- "stork parking" -- for expectant and new mothers.

"This is an important moment in military medicine and for military families," said Dr. William Winkenwerder Jr., assistant secretary of defense for health affairs. "We're committing ourselves and the system we lead to be more responsive, accessible and to be a leader in family health care services."

The process to change the way military treatment facilities offer obstetric care began more than a year ago, Winkenwerder said. Patient feedback and the leadership of the services' surgeons general "who understood that a fundamental responsibility of the military health system is to match high-quality medical services with a patient-focused system" were instrumental in forging the initiative, he added.

Family-centered care is a commitment to service members that "we will meet their needs for quality care in a sensitive and responsive manner," added Chu. Because of duty and deployments, major family events often take place without the military member. Some 50,000 babies are born in military hospitals every year, and the father, Chu noted, is "regrettably often absent."

"This is one reason the family-centered health care is so important," he added. "For those of us who have had the great good fortune to participate (in) and witness the birth of our children, this singular sacrifice of our service members and their families is humbling. Childbirth is a time for uncertainty and concern. It's also a time for great expectation and, most frequently, joy. When families do have the great fortune to be together for the birthing experience, we will extend the joy of birth to be more inclusive of the entire family."

Winkenwerder said health-care professionals are honored to serve the men and women who volunteer to wear the uniform and to demonstrate that pride by the quality of care they offer.

"We're privileged to be guests at some of the most important events in their lives, such as the birth of their children," he said. "The new family-centered care program is the focus -- the center of our attention. (We) need to be focused on patients' and family needs. In introducing this program, we are telling our patients, "We value you, we believe in the quality of care for our health care system, and we want you to choose us."

The goal of the program is to ensure the same, exceptional level of care and services is available across the military health system, according to a DoD news release. Hospital and clinic staff members are receiving additional training to be more receptive to patients' questions, to help develop individualized birth plans, and to ensure patients receive coordinated care.

"I'm excited about the program," said Chu. "I'm confident it'll be a success, and I know it will be of extraordinary value to our military families."

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