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New Navy Surgeon General Puts Patients, Families First

By David Mays
Special to American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 3, 2007 – Patients, not process, must always come first, the Navy’s surgeon general said yesterday.

“If I can keep my eye on the ball -- and that is healthcare, people, patients, families -- then I can always get the administrative or the process problems cared for and done,” Vice Adm. Adam M. Robinson Jr. told online journalists and “bloggers” yesterday during a conference call from National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.

Robinson, who commanded the Bethesda facility before he was promoted to oversee all of Navy medicine about a month ago, said he is committed to knocking down bureaucratic barriers that may get in the way of medical care.

“We can never lose sight of the fact that we take care of patients,” he said. “We need to provide care for patients.”

That care must be world class, he said, whether it is delivered in stateside military medical facilities or on the front lines.

“Force health protection is a fit and ready force,” Robinson explained. “It’s to deploy with the war fighters. It’s there to care for the warfighters no matter what that care may be.”

Besides treating trauma cases such as servicemembers wounded in combat, deployed military health care personnel are providing preventative medicine, obstetrics and gynecological treatment, pediatric infectious disease diagnosis, and other services, the admiral said. “There could be a variety of things that we may need to do at any given time,” he said.

Providing medical services to veterans is also a top priority, the admiral said. “It is our honor and privilege, and it is our duty to care for them,” he said.

One facility that has famously cared for millions of servicemembers, veterans and military families is Walter Reed Army Medical Center in the nation’s capital. It is mandated to close in 2011 under the Base Realignment and Closure law, as is the National Naval Medical Center. A new facility to be built on the Bethesda campus will be known as the National Military Medical Center and will be staffed by Army, Navy and Air Force personnel.

“It takes more than any one single service to get the job done,” Robinson said, noting that many military medical missions, such as the USNS Comfort, are already jointly staffed.

There’s been major progress toward the new medical center in the past few weeks, the admiral explained, such as the standing up a joint task force to oversee the project. “There’s now a unity of command that exists,” he said.

Everyday health care, such as making medical appointments and filling prescriptions, is also important, the admiral said. To that end, the military is making an extra effort to recruit and retain key medical positions by offering attractive incentives such as bonuses. “In the military, we talk about recruiting an individual, and retaining a family,” Robinson said. “That’s important.”

Professional development and personal enrichment are both required to keep talented medical personnel motivated to serve in the military on a long term basis. Even so, many staffers leave, he said, after their initial enlistment.

“I think part of that is because of the war,” Robinson said. “But I think most of that is because they don’t see career paths that are open to them on the military side.”

Fixing career-path problems is a top priority, the admiral said, but caring for servicemembers wounded in war is an even more urgent mission. “Once you’re wounded, I can never guarantee you’ll get back to the same,” Robinson said. “But I can try my darnedest to make sure that you are as good as you can possibly be and then get you back into your communities so that you can become a productive, vibrant part of that community and help the United States understand exactly what the cost of freedom really is from a very personal point of view.”

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Vice Adm. Adam M. Robinson Jr., USN

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