Col. Steven J. Brewster was replaced as commander of the Womack Army Medical Center on Tuesday, after recent patient deaths and issues with surgical-infection control at the facility. The Fort Bragg medical center is one of about 40 across the nation that serves active duty members of the military and their families. In a statement issued to the New York Times, the Army said that “senior Army medical leaders have lost trust and confidence" in Brewster. The dismissal comes amidst an ongoing scandal involving medical care in the Veteran Affairs department.
In the past 10 days, two patients in their twenties have died unexpectedly after being treated at Womack. A Joint Commission review required for the facility to keep its accreditation found that it had "higher-than-expected rate of surgical complications from January 2010 to July 2013," the Times wrote, possibly due to problems with the methods used to control infections in surgical facilities.
According to the Times, the first recent unexpected fatality was a 29-year-old wife of an active duty serviceman who went to Womack for a "routine tubal ligation." Racheal Marie Rice, 29, returned to the hospital's emergency room hours after the surgery feeling ill. Here's what happened next, according to the Times's report:
Patients who return that soon after surgery are supposed to be placed on a triage list and seen quickly. But Mrs. Rice waited for about two hours without seeing a doctor, then left to breast-feed her baby, who is about 6 months old, according to people familiar with the case. By the next morning, she was close to death. An ambulance took her from her home back to Womack, where she died.
The second unexpected fatality, who remains unnamed, was 24 and an active duty soldier. He was diagnosed with tachycardia after an emergency room visit, and sent on his way with medication to take. He died shortly after, although it's not known when and where.
Later on Tuesday, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced a “comprehensive review” of military health care services. However, Politico reported, the Pentagon has said that the planned reviews are not related to the Womack patient deaths. Instead, they're apparently an effort to replicate the reviews currently underway in the VA, after reports of long wait times and secret waiting lists at Veterans' facilities became a big problem for the department earlier this month. In a statement, Rear Adm. John Kirby said:
“It’s fair to say that he ordered this review within the context of what is going on at the VA. To the degree we have similar issues — and we do not know that we necessarily have them — he wants to understand them and he wants to attack them aggressively."
Hagel is slated to meet with Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work and other secretaries for military services to talk through the scope of the planned review.