Infant death raises new questions about Army hospital deaths
Posted May 30, 2014
Fort Bragg, N.C. — The death of an infant at Fort Bragg has raised new questions about an investigation that shook up the command at Womack Army Medical Center this week, but Army officials are reassuring the public that that there's no reason to be alarmed.
Col. Steven Brewster, the military hospital's commander, was relieved of duty Tuesday after two deaths this month involving patients in their 20s and problems with infection control at the facility.
The unidentified 11-month-old baby, who died at home on post Thursday, had been treated and released a week ago for a viral infection, according to The New York Times.
Tom McCollum, a spokesman for Fort Bragg's 18th Airborne Corps, could not say Friday if the child was treated at Womack, and other officials cited patient privacy laws that prevent them from talking.
McCollum did say, however, that the cause of the child's death is under investigation – a standard practice in unexpected deaths – but that there are no indications right now that it's connected to the older patients.
"Please understand that these are two completely separate investigations, and if there's anything that brings the two together, we'll announce it," McCollum said.
Patient care, he said, remains the hospital's No. 1 priority.
"What we're asking people is, please don't come to any conclusions on what caused this child's death," McCollum said.
Details about the deaths of the two adults also have not been released. A source close to that investigation, however, told WRAL News Friday that one of them was a soldier and that the other was the wife of a soldier. The source also said that their deaths are unrelated.
Problems at Womack have been developing for some time. It had a higher-than-expected rate of surgical complications in recent years and in March suspended elective surgery for two days after inspectors from an accreditation group found problems with infection control procedures, a defense official told The Associated Press Wednesday.
McCollum said the inspections were routine and not the result of any specific concern.
"They are done periodically to make sure all of our medical facilities are up to par," he said. "There were some shortcomings at Womack, and the investigations were conducted. Those were the main reasons it was under investigation."
Maria Tolleson, spokeswoman for the Office of the Army Surgeon General/Army Medical Command, said in a statement Tuesday that senior Army medical leaders lost trust and confidence in Brewster "to address the changes needed to maintain a high level of patient care."
Deputy commanders for clinical services, nursing and administration have also been suspended and temporarily assigned to other units.
"We assure you that the Army is committed to doing whatever is necessary to provide proper medical care to our soldiers and their families," Tolleson said.