FORT BRAGG, N.C. — North Carolina's three military hospitals have been contacted or visited recently by Pentagon fact-finding teams in the wake of disclosures of shoddy care at one of the country's top Army hospitals.
A team of about two dozen people from the Defense Department visited the state's largest military hospital, Womack Army Medical Center at Fort Bragg, hospital spokeswoman Shannon Lynch said Wednesday. The team requested hospital data, visited clinics and toured barracks where soldiers stay when receiving outpatient care.
"Basically they asked us to walk them through everything from the point a soldier is air-evaced here," Lynch said.
Col. Terry Walters, who oversees Womack, said inspectors were very satisfied with the hospital.
"They found parts of our system, namely the Department of Deployment Health, may be a best practice for the Army," Walters said.
“If you want to look at quality of care, I would gladly stand them (Womack medical staff) right by the side of any hospital in the country, including Duke, UNC, Johns Hopkins, you name it,” said Col. Colin Greene, the deputy commander for clinical services.
Marine hospitals at Camp Lejeune and Cherry Point, and a clinic at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base also have been contacted, officials said.
President George W. Bush ordered a comprehensive review of conditions at military and veterans hospitals after substandard outpatient care was revealed at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., one of the premier facilities for injured soldiers.
Congress has held hearings on the scandal, and a bipartisan panel was formed to investigate problems at military hospitals, which have been overwhelmed by injured troops from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Bush said the panel would work to restore confidence in the system of caring for wounded U.S. troops.
Pentagon fact-finding teams are expected to visit 11 of the country's largest military medical facilities in seven states, including Womack. The hospital has 158 beds.
Womack administrators created a clinic for wounded soldiers as the Iraq war began in March 2003. Lynch said a case worker is assigned to each soldier who follows the soldier through the medical system, making sure follow-up appointments are scheduled and problems are avoided.
"They stay on top of things for us," said Sgt. Jesse Downing, who has been a patient at Womack since last August after he was wounded by a roadside bomb in Iraq. "We call the case managers, and they have our backs. They make the phone calls for us. Overall, I would say I'm very pleased."
Case workers are also used at the Naval hospital at Camp Lejeune, said Capt. Brian Dawson, the facility's second in command. The hospital doesn't have outpatient housing, though a unique Wounded Warrior Barracks operated by the Marines was built at the urging of a Marine officer. Reporters and outsiders visit the well-kept barracks regularly.
The smaller Naval Hospital Cherry Point has two case managers who handle only 34 service members, about the same load as one case worker at Camp Lejeune.
Womack opened in 2000, and the Cherry Point hospital in 1994. Camp Lejeune's medical facility, which opened in 1982, is being renovated.
Noting that the Army has the lowest war-time disease rate ever and the fewest deaths from combat wounds, Walters said the military delivers health care effectively.Smaller military medical centers also have gotten attention.
“I feel passionately that we do it better than anyone else in the world, and the results prove us,” she said.
The Thomas Koritz Clinic at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in Goldsboro has treated only three patients injured in Iraq or Afghanistan, but its officials have been contacted about offsite housing and case management, clinic spokesman Master Sgt. Arthur Webb said.
The clinic has no hospital beds or offsite housing but does have case management.