Keesler Medical Center Targeted For Cutbacks

Keesler Air Force base will remain open, but the the base closure commission is recommending changes that could mean the loss of several hundred jobs at the Biloxi facility.

The proposed changes involve Keesler Medical Center and include dramatic cutbacks in the health care services now provided there It includes the elimination of all "in patient" surgeries and the loss of some 400 jobs, both military and civilian.

Keesler's commander gave the crowd at Friday's retiree appreciation luncheon the good news first.

"Keesler's value as an installation was clearly recognized. Keesler will stay open," said Commander William Lord, as loud applause followed.

But then the commander shared the news of proposed cutbacks at Keesler Medical Center, recommended changes that will likely impact most of the retirees.

"All surgeries that require staying in a hospital longer than 23 hours will be done in one of the fine medical facilities within a 40 mile area here," General Lord explained.

Reaction among the retirees was more disappointment than surprise.

"We send out 13,000 and news letters to the retirees in this area and it's going to impact all of them," said retiree volunteer, Joe Peters.

Peters has had several in patient surgeries at Keesler Medical Center. He wasn't surprised the defense department belt tightening is targeting health care.

"Not really, because when they started cutting back on the beds in there, I think they went from 300 down to 100 beds. It was a concern then at that time," he said.

The man who directs Keesler's retiree program says it will be an adjustment, but he's also confident the health care system will still meet the need.

"Retirees and family members need to be very patient and take this with stride. This is a way that DOD is going to continue to function in future years. So, we can make it work," said Lonnie Arnold.

The loss of in patient surgeries at Keesler Medical Center is significant.  Last year, the medical center did more than 5,000 such surgeries.