Dental squadron discovery leads to AETC award

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Melissa Kunkel, 56th Dental Squadron expanded function dental assistant, earned the Air Force Medical Service’s August “Trusted Care Hero” award for Air Education and Training Command.

Kunkel was recognized by Lt. Gen. Mark Ediger, Air Force Surgeon General, for her discovery of unlabeled bottles containing clear liquid, leading to adjustments made in other dental clinics Air Force wide.

“We are constantly checking for expired items,” Kunkel said. “Attention to detail is very important to me, and while I was in supply I discovered biopsy jars that weren’t labeled.”

The 36-year dental practitioner realized the jars were without required labeled content identification.

Though a seemingly simple fix, Kunkel was the first to realize the patient safety issue. Once the problem was elevated to her leadership, similar jars were discovered in several medical treatment facilities throughout the Air Force.

“The patient is our main concern,” Kunkel said. “The patient wants to be taken care of in a safe and comfortable manner. It’s up to us to handle everything behind the scenes.”

“Trusted Care” is a concept operation for the Air Force Medical Service’s transformation to a high-reliability healthcare system. Its focus is safe patient care, exceptional quality in-garrison, in the air and deployed, and a systematic approach to continuous process improvement.

Another aspect of trusted care is to prevent harm to patients by identifying and eliminating risk before it becomes a harmful event. Kunkel’s discovery did just that and initiated a shipment of labels to multiple MTFs throughout the Air Force, fixing the discrepancy.

Kunkel will go on to compete for the Air Force level Trusted Care Hero award with her discovery that changed the Air Force from right here in the 56th Fighter Wing.