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In wake of VA scandal, DoD to review its health system

May. 29, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work on May 22.
Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work on May 22. (Glenn Fawcett / Office of the Secretary of Defense)
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Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work will lead the Pentagon’s review of its military health system, a comprehensive look at patient safety and access Secretary Chuck Hagel says is needed to ensure the organization meets national standards.

In a memo released Thursday, Hagel said he directed the 90-day review to help guide the development of department standards that exceed national averages.

“The department must continue to provide the best available health care to our service men and women and their families. ... They deserve nothing short of our highest level of effort,” Hagel wrote.

The Pentagon announced the review late Tuesday, saying Hagel had been considering it in the wake of the VA scandal over patient appointment scheduling and wait times.

“It’s fair to say that he ordered this review within the context of what is going on at the VA. To the degree we have similar issues — and we do not know that we necessarily have them — he wants to understand them and he wants to attack them aggressively,” Pentagon press secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby said.

The announcement came the day the Army relieved the commander of the Army hospital at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, citing “lost trust and confidence in his command.”

Col. Steven Brewster was relieved of command at Womack Army Medical Center and three deputies were suspended.

Officials said Hagel’s announcement was unrelated to the Womack events. But the New York Times has been investigating issues of patient safety at Womack and on Wednesday, reported that Brewster’s relief followed the deaths of two patients — a 29-year-old military spouse who died from complications of a tubal ligation on May 17 and a 24-year-old active-duty service member who died last weekend after visiting Womack’s emergency room for tachycardia.

According to the Times, the soldier had recently been treated at Womack’s surgery unit.

An Army Medical Command spokesperson confirmed the changes at Womack were due to the patient deaths as well as problems with surgical-infection control identified in March by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations as reported by the Times.

The Defense Department review will examine patient access to care, determining whether military treatment facilities and referrals meet published guidance and standards, patient safety and quality of care.

A final report is due to Hagel’s office by Aug. 29.

While problems and questionable practices at multiple VA facilities nationwide have been highlighted in government oversight reports for nearly a decade, Government Accountability Office reports on the DoD health system largely have focused on streamlining the organization and improving Tricare health programs.

In 2007, the Army relieved the commander of Walter Reed Army Medical Center and Army Secretary Francis Harvey resigned following news reports of deplorable living conditions and inadequate patient care at the Washington, D.C., hospital.

Staff writer Joe Gould contributed to this report.

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