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Naval Hospital Pensacola could see significant cuts

NAVAL HOSPITAL PENSACOLA   --  Ongoing federal budget cuts could mean big changes for military health care. A Department of Defense report cited plans to cut at least five-thousand jobs in the military health system by 2018.

In April, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told the House Armed Services Committee that many military hospitals and clinics are underused and he announced a plan to "reduce that underutilization while still providing high-quality medical care."

Those reductions could lead to big changes at Naval Hospital Pensacola.
The Navy is looking at possibly cutting the intensive care unit at the facility and reducing the emergency room to an urgent care unit.

Captain Maureen Padden, the commanding officer of the hospital, says the changes are not a done deal.

"Right now the plan is that we could begin to execute this plan if approval is agreed to by all the parties that have to be notified," Padden said, "Including Congress and different folks by the summer of 2014."
   
Captain Padden says the hospital serves 25 to 30-thousand service members, retirees and family members in our area.

If this plan ends up becoming a reality, the Naval Hospital would no longer receive ambulances. They would have to go to other nearby hospitals.

The entire situation has a lot of folks very concerned.

"I'm actually really upset," said Heidi Zimmerman, a mother of two young children whose husband is a sailor.
 
"I live ten minutes from the base," Zimmerman said, "So if something were to happen to them that would be really, really serious, it'd be a problem. That's the only place that we go for emergency care or even for our doctor's appointments and stuff."
   
Zimmerman, her children and her husband would still be able to get emergency treatment, it would just have to be at another facility besides the Naval Hospital.

"Havin' to go 20 or 30 minutes another way or 15 minutes even, if it's a really serious emergency, something could happen between our house and the emergency room if we can't get to the nearest by one," Zimmerman said.

Betty Bennett, who lives two miles from the Naval Hospital, has similar concerns.

"It's a long way from my house to the Baptist or the Sacred Heart," she said.

Bennett says her husband, a Navy veteran, has been treated in the hospital's ICU in the past.

She says it was helpful having the hospital close by and that she, "Went to see him every day and it was convenient."
   
Glenn Beermann, a Navy retiree, also lives near the hospital. Though he's never been treated in the facility, he's concerned as well.

"I'd like it to be there if I needed it," Beermann said.

Again these cuts are not a done deal. They're just part of a plan that's being considered by the Defense Department. Congress is looking at it but it does not require congressional approval.