That is exactly the case at Christus Spohn Hospital in Beeville.
Daniel St. Armand spent 23 years in the U.S. Army Green Beret as a medic. He joined the local staff Feb. 24, and the 51-year-old hit the ground running, not unlike how he dove out of helicopters in Korea and Afghanistan.
In his first month, using his combat experience where seconds count, he has reorganized the sequence of events anyone faces when going to the hospital.
“It’s called team triage. The usual sequence,” he explains, “is the patient walks through the door, goes to registration, then to triage, next a bed in a room and only then sees a doctor. That process take from 18 to 30 minutes.
“Here at Christus Spohn, patients walk though the door, and the first person they see is a nurse or a physician’s attendant. Next they are assigned a bed in a room and only then do they get registered. That whole process takes about seven minutes.”
His combat experience, he says, “allows me to understand and control chaos.”
His hazel eyes gaze out the window of his office, focusing on a desert past, to remember a frantic time in Afghanistan when a Canadian serviceman was flown by helicopter to his site.
“It was a 10-man medical team, as far forward as you could go,” he recalls. “It was an operating room in a tent.”
The man had suffered a bullet wound in his buttocks. The bullet had severed an artery.
“The man was bleeding to death internally,” St. Armand explained.
On the operating table, doctors were having difficulty controlling the bleeding. The artery had been displaced into a difficult-to-reach place in the man’s pelvis. St. Armand put out a call for blood donors.
In the next two-and-one-half hours, St. Armand organized and ran a blood-donating industry.
“We gave him 22 units of blood,” he says. “I had donors lying on cots, I would draw blood, then take the units to surgery, then more people were lying on cots, more drawing blood, then I’d take the blood to surgery.”
The team saved the man’s life. He was stabilized and flown to a larger medical facility at a base in Kandahar. He never saw the man again.
Such incidents, St. Armand says, “allows me to put things into perspective. When we think we’re limited on resources here, we’re really not limited on resources, because I have been in situations where we truly had limited resources.”
St. Armand has expanded the cross-training of nurses—“a common military concept” to allow patients to have instant care when they need it.
Members of a Green Beret team are trained to do the job of other team members, such as a medic also knowing how to operate communications equipment in the case the radioman is wounded or killed.
“We have to become jack of all trades and master of all,” he says.
Knowing how to do more duties, he says, should be considered job security.
Although there is yet no monetary reward for cross training, he hopes to adopt a system he created while working in Vail where if a nurse learned the skills of two other disciplines, they got a raise.
“We want…” he pauses, “from whatever has happened in the past—I can’t change what has happened in the past—my goal,” he says, hammering his fingers on the edge of his desk for emphasis, “is to make this hospital the hub of health care in Beeville. We want patients to feel confident and comfortable, knowing that we have clinical expertise. We need to change the face of this hospital, one patient at a time.”
He visits every patient in the hospital every morning.
One only can speculate whether being the chief nursing officer of a hospital in Beeville was what St. Armand had in mind after high school—he was born in Providence; his high school was a Jesuit-run Roman Catholic boys school in nearby Warwick—when he spent a year at the University of Rhode Island.
“I was tired of school,” he says. “Also I was young and dumb and stupid.”
He joined the Army, adding a fictitious two inches to his height to qualify.
In the next 23 years, he saw duty in Honduras, Korea, Kosovo and Afghanistan.
“Yeah, I’ve been shot at. It’s always an interesting experience.”
“Interesting” is wholly inadequate to explain what he experienced in the spring of 1985, during a night parachute drop along the DMZ dividing South and North Korea.
“By accident, the Air Force dropped us on the wrong side,” he says. When he landed, his group, on a reconnaissance mission, found themselves 30 kilometers inside North Korea.
“Believe it or not, in special operations, land navigation is one of the best skills you learned. We radioed our base to let them know where we were so that when we crossed back into South Korea our own soldiers didn’t shoot.
“We…commandeered…a vehicle to drive, very quickly, to the border. Hopefully, that vehicle got returned to its owner.”
But like gravity, the Jesuit influence was always present, if sometimes unnoticed.
“All those years in special ops allowed me to be young and crazy and sow my oats. I’m not going to lie to you, my job was to…to kill people. But, finally, I decided I had a greater cause in my life.”
He married Brigitta, from Germany, in 2005; the couple have three children.
“I had no reservations about taking this job,” he says. “The fact that we are faith-based is something that I have missed.
“It's actually a true mission and a true calling at this hospital. We start every meeting, every single meeting, with a prayer. That brings you to understand what we truly are meant to be doing here. They don’t do that in for-profit hospitals.”
St. Armand’s enthusiasm is infectious. Anyone planning to resist his changes at the hospital should take pause. If being a former special-ops Green Beret isn’t intimidating enough, consider that he was able to attend high school only via a scholarship.
Bill Clough is a reporter at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 122, or at beepic@mySouTex.com.