VICENZA, Italy -- Expectant mothers aren't the only people losing access to military medical care as the Aviano Air Base hospital transitions to a clinic in the coming months. So are Defense Department civilians and retirees.
The 31st Medical Group's hospital downsizing to a clinic by next year includes doing away with the internal medicine department, which provided care and a regular doctor for hundreds of civilians and retirees.
Beginning Jan. 1, retirees and civilians -- who have been able to book appointments -- will be seen at the base clinic only on a space-available basis, 31st Medical Group officials said. More than 900 retirees and civilians will be affected, base officials say.
The Defense Department-mandated change follows a similar downsizing of the Army's medical facilities in Vicenza in 2014. But officials there announced the new policy on Facebook as it took effect, sowing chaos and anger. Civilians found that some Italian doctors were declining to see Americans. As a result, sick children whose parents were unable to book appointments ended up taking them to the local emergency room.
Aviano officials said they were preparing a pamphlet explaining the new protocols and providing information about local Italian physicians, pharmacies, clinics and hospitals.
Expectant mothers due to give birth after May 1, when the obstetrical department closes its doors, have already been referred to Italian obstetricians.