Walter Reed Medical Team Honored in Staff Appreciation Day
By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, April 25, 2008 Walter Reed Army Medical Center today honored its 4,000-person team during Staff Appreciation Day, highlighting efforts over the past 14 months to improve wounded warrior care and cut delays in disability evaluations.
Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England addresses an audience at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, in Washington, D.C., for the hospital's Staff
Apreciation Day on April 25, 2008. Photo by John J. Kruzel, Department of Defense
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
On the sunny hospital grounds here, staff members in medical scrubs and soldiers in uniform gathered to hear officials praise the invigorated work that has improved the medical center’s image in the wake of a critical investigation published early last year. Over that time, the staff also evaluated a backlogged list of more than 350 injured soldiers waiting to learn their disability status.
“Over the past year, we’ve looked very carefully and honestly at every aspect of health care delivery. And where we found room for improvement, the staff moved out, busted through any bureaucratic challenges, and set a new standard for care, for compassion and for healing,” Army Col. Patricia Horoho, commander of the Walter Reed Health Care System, told the crowd.
In February 2007, the Washington Post published a series of articles that shed light on poor conditions at the hospital’s outpatient facilities, describing America’s wounded warrior outpatients living in moldy rooms laden with belly-up cockroaches and stained carpets, and soldiers forced to face a cumbersome bureaucracy at the center.
In the wake of the reports, President Bush established a bipartisan panel tasked to fix problems with wounded servicemembers’ care. Since then, the hospital has improved housekeeping and hospitality services and its efficiency in responding to patients’ needs, Horoho said, including the creation of a healthier menu with meals of higher nutritional value.
Further, the center has advanced the way it physically and administratively transfers wounded soldiers from the battlefield to the hospital and upgraded its patient and family facilities. It stepped up its process for tracking military medical histories, set up warrior transition brigades, and added new communications tools to improve coordination with patients.
“In my view, every one of you has pulled together to make this the best place to heal and to serve,” Horoho said, citing several top-notch medical accreditations the hospital received recently.
But the staff’s “above and beyond” achievement, the colonel said, was completing 358 backlogged medical evaluation board cases, which reduced the number of soldiers waiting for an assessment on their disability status.
“Our staff rose to this historical challenge to restore the trust and reputation of Walter Reed as the home of warrior care and the flagship of [Defense Department] medicine by providing the best care to past, present and future warriors,” she said.
Army Maj. Gen. Carla G. Hawley-Bowland, commander of North Atlantic Regional Medical Command and Walter Reed Army Medical Center, said the “boots on the ground” response to outpatient care problems evoked the Army’s warrior ethos and ensured that no fallen comrade would be left behind.
“Some people may have looked to Walter Reed as the most visible example of systemic problems,” she said. “They now view Walter Reed as the solution source and the leader in warrior care.”
Providing closing remarks at the United Service Organizations-sponsored event was Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England. England told the medical staff it represents what every free American owes servicemembers who become injured while fighting on behalf of the nation.
“Tomorrow morning, every single person across this great land will wake up free,” he said. “And the reason they will wake up free tomorrow -- and hopefully for generations after tomorrow -- is that, for 230 years, great Americans have stepped forward preserve those freedoms and liberties.
“It is the responsibility and obligation not just of the government, but of every single person who enjoys the fruits of those freedoms, to not only express their appreciation, but to take care of those who serve,” he continued. “There could be no better calling than taking care of those who need help, and particularly those who have given us our freedoms and our liberties.”