Review of Military Healthcare Ordered After Reports of VA Treatment Failures

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Advocacy Groups Also Cite Womack Patient Deaths

By Sandra Basu

WASHINGTON - A 90-day review of military health system facilities will look at a range of standards, comparing MHS performance with at least three civilian healthcare systems where standards are relevant and comparable.

FORT BELVOIR, Va. -- Debra Turkat (far left), a social worker at Fort Belvoir Community Hospital's Traumatic Brain Injury National Intrepid Center of Excellence, explains how TBI patients are tested using an anti-gravity treadmill during a tour of the NICoE following the hospital's Brain Injury Awareness Month kickoff in March. Administrators at the hospital say they welcome the current MHS review because they are always looking to improve. DoD photo by Marc Barnes

FORT BELVOIR, Va. — Debra Turkat (far left), a social worker at Fort Belvoir Community Hospital’s Traumatic Brain Injury National Intrepid Center of Excellence, explains how TBI patients are tested using an anti-gravity treadmill during a tour of the NICoE following the hospital’s Brain Injury Awareness Month kickoff in March. Administrators at the hospital say they welcome the current MHS review because they are always looking to improve. DoD photo by Marc Barnes

“The secretary believes nothing is more important than the health and well-being of our people. He’s been clear: If our standards are not being met, we’re going to do what’s necessary to correct it. And where they are being met, he’s committed to making sure that best practices are shared across the force,” Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon’s press secretary, explained at a press briefing last month.

In addition to comparing MHS practices with similar systems, Kirby said the review “will assess prior recommendations and findings from relevant internal and external reports. It will assess compliance with existing policies and national standards. It will review education and training of healthcare professionals and staff.”

Feedback from MHS system users also will be sought, such as hearing “firsthand from patients and beneficiaries about their experiences and perceptions regarding the access, quality and safety standards that we employ,” he said.

The review was announced only days after the commander of Womack Army Medical Center in Fort Bragg, NC, was replaced following the deaths there of two young patients who had sought emergency treatment. In addition, the VA has been under fire because of systemic problems related to timely care and access to treatment.

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel told reporters in late May that the MHS review is “part of leadership and oversight to assure and constantly assure and reassure our people that we are doing what we need to do in order to fulfill a commitment we made to them in healthcare.”

The review will specifically look at healthcare access, patient safety and quality of care in both direct-care facilities and the purchased-care system.

“Where the MHS is falling short of meeting standards as defined in OSD or Military Department policies, or as defined in TRICARE contracts, specific recommendations will be provided to improve performance,” according to a DoD document issued last month.

In addition, the document explained that the review would include a “senior level review of the current federated MHS governance structure.”

“Governance will be reviewed within the context of existing roles and responsibilities. Recommendations to improve or enhance the decision making process with respect to the goals of this review will be provided to the Secretary of Defense,” it states.

As part of the MHS review, DoD announced last month that it had identified seven military treatment facilities that will participate in the site visit component of the review. That list includes: San Diego Naval Hospital; Madigan Army Medical Center in Tacoma, WA; Winn Army Hospital at Fort Stewart, GA; Lakenheath Air Force Hospital in England; Fort Belvoir, MD, Community Hospital; the Air Force Academy Cadet Clinic in Colorado; and the Patuxent River Naval Clinic in Maryland.

“The site visit teams will consist of more than 20 healthcare professionals, to include some flag and general officers,” Kirby said last month. “The review teams will meet with facility staff to assess the quality of care, access to that care, and, of course, patient safety at each of these facilities. Additionally, the teams will hold two town hall sessions at each site, one for faculty and staff and then one for beneficiaries of the care.”

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