• September 18, 2014

Pentagon orders review of health care

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Posted: Thursday, May 29, 2014 11:38 pm

WASHINGTON — The chief of an Army medical center was relieved of his command because of problems with patient care. The Pentagon has ordered a review of its health care system, which includes the Fort Hood hospital.

The commander was replaced Tuesday at Womack Army Medical Center at Fort Bragg, N.C., and three deputies were suspended, the Army said in a statement.

The shake-up comes after two deaths this month of patients in their 20s and problems with infection control at the facility that were pointed out in March by a hospital accreditation group, according to two defense officials. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.

Also, the Pentagon announced late Tuesday that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered a 90-day review of the entire military health care system. He was spurred by the investigation into allegations of treatment delays at the Department of Veterans Affairs. The review will assess the quality of the health care at military treatment facilities and care the department buys from civilian providers, press secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby said.

Earlier Tuesday, a meeting was held at Womack to introduce staff to their new commander after the Army relieved Col. Steven Brewster of his position, the defense officials said.

“Senior Army medical leaders have lost trust and confidence in the commander ... to address the changes needed to maintain a high level of patient care,” the Army statement said. Suspended were the deputy commanders for clinical services, nursing and administration, the Army said.

Problems at Womack have been developing for some time. It had a higher-than-expected rate of surgical complications in recent years and in March suspended elective surgery for two days after inspectors from the accreditation group found problems with infection control procedures, a defense official said.

Darnall army medical center

Fort Hood’s main hospital, which did not provide a comment for this story by press time, has a questionable history serving soldiers.

Last year, Staff Sgt. Lupe Maldonado was diagnosed with colon cancer at Seton Medical Center Harker Heights on the Saturday before Easter. At 2 a.m. that same day, he’d gone to Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center’s emergency room by ambulance, but Maldonado said in the five minutes he saw the doctor, he was asked mostly about his upcoming training and deployment. Maldonado said he was told he had a torn or pulled muscle causing him abdominal pain. He was sent home with Celebrex, an arthritis medication.

Maldonado died Feb. 1. He was 36.

“The Army isn’t to blame,” said Maldonado, as he battled cancer last year. “The (emergency room) needs to make sure it takes soldiers seriously and do the right tests. ... They shouldn’t be worried about who’s going into the field or not.”

Last November, Angela Chandler, a former 1st Cavalry Division specialist diagnosed with torn cartilage in her hips, said she pleaded with her primary care manager at Fort Hood’s Monroe Health Clinic, which is part of the Darnall system and serves the 1st Cavalry Division, but she repeatedly denied even a referral to orthopedics to see if she was eligible for treatment or surgery.

“I did everything I could internally,” Chandler said at the time. “But this is a big problem. And there are still other soldiers.”

The military health care system is separate from the one for veterans. The Pentagon system serves some 9.6 million active-duty troops and their family members, as well as retirees. VA facilities serve 9 million veterans who are not long-term career troops.

The VA has been embroiled in controversy over allegations that up to 40 patients may have died while awaiting care at the Phoenix hospital for veterans, and that employees have falsified appointment records to cover up delays in care.

The department’s inspector general investigation into the allegations has been expanded and now includes 25 more VA facilities. But an initial review of 17 people who died while awaiting appointments in Phoenix found that none of their deaths appeared to have been caused by delays in treatment.

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