Military Commander Removed After Two Deaths at Ft. Bragg Hospital

Thursday, 29 May 2014 06:15 PM

By Lisa Degnen

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The commander in charge and three deputy commanders have been removed from the Womack Army Medical Center in Ft Bragg, N.C. after two patients died in less than a week.

Womack is one of the largest Army hospitals in the country.

Col. Robert Tenhet, commander of Northern Regional Medical Command, said officials took the action during the Memorial Day weekend to try and ensure patient safety and regain trust with the public, the Fayetteville Observer reports. He also added that further disciplinary action couldn't be ruled out.

The paper reports Tenhet as saying the hospital was already under investigation over its infection control procedures, although the two deaths were unrelated to that issue.

After a patient died following a May 16 visit to the hospital, Tenhet, who had been placed in the Northern Regional Medical Command on May 5, had the officer in charge of the emergency department dismissed.

"I started to lose confidence in the commander," the Observer quotes Tenhet as saying.

Then another patient died and Tenhet recommended that Col. Steven J. Brewster be removed immediately, despite the fact that he was due to retire next month. The two patients who died were the 29-year-old wife of a soldier and a 24-year old active-duty service member.

"In medicine, it's not like other jobs," Tenhet told the paper when describing the need for immediacy "We are life and death. These are hard decisions you make, but you have to look at the mission as a whole."

The site says Jonathan Steele, president of Local 1770 of the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents civilian employees at the hospital, says his members have complained about "toxic work environments" and leadership problems there.

Politicians are weighing in on the dismissals.

"The recent deaths must be investigated, and they underscore the urgency of conducting the system-wide review of care in military treatment facilities that (the Pentagon) announced yesterday," Republican Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina told the Observer.

North Carolina Republican Rep. Renee Ellmers agreed in a press release, according to the report. "While the details continue to unfold, the initial reports of substandard care and the neglect of our country's warriors and veterans should shock and outrage not only the Fort Bragg community, but the nation as a whole," Ellmers said.

The Los Angeles Times reports that the removal of Brewster comes on the heels of a 90-day review of all military healthcare facilities ordered by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to ensure that military patients are not facing the same problems afflicting veterans seeking care at Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals.

According to the paper, 9.6 million active-duty service members, retirees and their dependents are served by military medical care.

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