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Pendleton Unveils New $500 Million Naval Hospital

Evening Edition

Above: Medical care for Marines and their families is getting a first-class upgrade at Camp Pendleton. Base officials offered a preview of their new four-story naval hospital today. KPBS Health Reporter Kenny Goldberg tells us it’s not your grandfather’s military hospital.

Aired 11/18/13 on KPBS News.

Medical care at Camp Pendleton is getting a first-class upgrade. If you were expecting Quonset huts and double-wide trailers, think again.

— Medical care for Marines and their families is getting a first-class upgrade at Camp Pendleton.

Base officials offered a preview of their new four-story naval hospital recently. If you were expecting Quonset huts and double-wide trailers, think again.

The new $500 million Navy hospital looks like something out of the pages of Architectural Digest magazine. The lobby is filled with stylish furniture, works of art and lots of natural light. There’s an atrium and even a Zen garden on one of the upper floors.

Capt. Mark Kobelja, commanding officer of the Naval Hospital, said the design elements were chosen with a specific purpose in mind.

“For example, we know that natural light definitely improves the pain scores and overall well-being and speed of recovery for patients," Kobelja said.

He added the military and civilian staff who work at the hospital benefit from the nice aesthetics, too.

“And so all of this is combined to try and make the facility as healing and welcoming as possible," Kobelja said.

This hospital replaces one on the base that was built nearly 40 years ago and is not earthquake proof. The old hospital was designed to house a larger number of patients for more extended stays, and in fact the new hospital has fewer in-patient beds. But there's a good reason for this.

Rear Adm. Forrest Faison is a pediatrician. He said hospital care is quite different today from what it was when he was in medical school.

“Eighty-five percent of our surgical patients are done as outpatients," Faison said. "Whereas, when I trained, they used to come in a day or two beforehand, and stay for five or six days after the surgery.”

The new hospital has nine operating rooms. It has a six-bed intensive care unit, too.

But the biggest part of the hospital’s business will be delivering babies. To that end, it has 10 labor and delivery rooms, and a special care nursery. Officials estimate about 200 women will give birth on the base each month.

Capt. Ann Uetz is the senior nurse executive.

“Today, people in the military are married, and married at more junior ranks than they were historically back in the 70s," Uetz said. "So, a lot of our junior families are growing and expanding.”

Naval Hospital Camp Pendleton will also serve as a major training facility for medical personnel who are headed out to the field. Staff train on everything from performing knee surgeries to caring for sick infants.

Lt. j.g. Tabitha Shannon said it’s all about giving people the hands-on experience they need.

“We provide all the advanced life-support training for them, so we keep them up on their skills, not only when they’re getting ready to deploy, but to keep them ready and always on standby, in case we’re called for something," Shannon said.

The Naval Hospital is built to serve 157,000 active duty and retired military personnel and their families.

It will open for business in mid-December.

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