In a move based on changing U.S. Navy policy, Naval Hospital Beaufort will close its emergency room, shutter its obstetrics and gynecology services, and reduce surgical and pediatric services by June 30.
The changes are part of a nationwide shift in U.S. Navy hospitals but will not jeopardize hospital care for Marine Corps recruits, according to a Naval Hospital news release.
Services cut by the new policy will be available at local hospitals through the Tricare health network to which most military families belong, the release said.
Last week, the Naval Hospital announced Tricare's on-site service center would close, part of cost-cutting measures expected to save $50 million per year nationwide, according to the Department of Defense.
In place of those services, more emphasis will be placed on the hospital's Medical Home Port clinic, a primary care clinic that uses a team of doctors, nurses and case managers to treat patients, according to the U.S. Navy website. Naval Hospital Beaufort's clinic opened in January 2011.
Retired Marine Corps Col. John Payne, chairman of the Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce's Military Enhancement Committee, said services once offered at the Naval Hospital should now be available at Beaufort Memorial Hospital through Tricare. He added that he supports the changes if they make the Naval Hospital more efficient.
However, the change is disconcerting for hospital staff members, according to Pris Black, a Beaufort resident and former nurse at the hospital. Black said some of her former co-workers were notified in November about the changes and are worried about losing their jobs.
"They've started looking for new ones, but they're going to tough it out until the end," Black said. "A couple I know that work at the hospital have already decided they're moving back to Philadelphia once the changes are made."
Black said she worked at the hospital for 12 years as a licensed practical nurse until her position was replaced in September 2012 by service members returning from overseas duty. As the wife of a retired veteran, she and her husband used the hospital for their medical needs.
"The Naval Hospital was convenient," she said. "There are a lot of people who use it regularly."
Black said she and others worry the program reductions are a sign the hospital will be shut down, but commanding officer Capt. Anne M. Lear said in the news release that the hospital will not close.
"Beneficiary populations have shifted, and the Navy's medical resources must shift, as well," she said. "This optimization will lead to changes that ensure we have the right mix of personnel and services to meet the medical needs of our sailors, Marines, family members and retirees."
In addition to Naval Hospital Beaufort, the eight other continental U.S. Navy hospitals will make changes based on the recommendation of a 2012 study conducted by the Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery, the release said.
More information on the changes is available at www.med.navy.mil/sites/nhbeaufort/ or by calling 843-228-5306.
Follow reporter Matt McNab at twitter.com/IPBG_Matt.