Walter Reed commander: actions more important than words
April 27, 2007
Not long before taking command of Walter Reed Army Medical Center and the North Atlantic Regional Medical Command, Maj. Gen. Eric B. Schoomaker was given John C. Maxwell's book "Leadership Promises for Every Day" by a chaplain friend. In addition to daily devotionals, the book contains advice on leadership.
Schoomaker read the March 3 entry, the day he arrived here after being named the WRAMC and NARMC commander. It began with a quote from Austin O'Malley, who said, "The fact that you have been knocked down is interesting, but the length of time you remain down is important."
The entry goes on the say, "In life, you will have problems. Are you going to give up and stay down, wallowing in your defeat, or are you going to get back on your feet as quickly as you can'"
Understandably, Schoomaker felt the entry appropriately described WRAMC six weeks ago, which had come under fire for poor housing conditions of outpatients in Bldg. 18, difficulties in the transition from superb inpatient to unstructured or managed outpatient care and systemic challenges faced by Warriors in Transition with the military's Medical Evaluation Board/Physical Evaluation Board (MEB/PEB) process.
An internal medicine physician, Schoomaker is quick to acknowledge he has special passions for WRAMC, which he recently told the Defense Health Board that met here, "is one of the pivotal academic medical centers and casualty receiving hospitals for the joint medical force." He added WRAMC is "privileged to be one of the principal casualty-receiving hospitals" for Wounded Warriors of the Global War on Terrorism.
For these reasons and others, Schoomaker, a proud "Army Brat" who earned his medical degree from the University of Michigan Medical School and then a doctorate in human genetics, said he feels "extraordinarily honored and humbled" to have been selected to command WRAMC and NARMC.
The two-star general began his military career as a research hematologist at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, but was soon selected to serve as assistant chief and program director, Department of Medicine at WRAMC. "I've had many of my most important and formative experiences as an Army officer and physician here. I've met some of my most important and enduring friends here, and I continue to consult, interact and share my life with them 25 years later."
Most importantly, he met his wife Audrey, a former Army nurse, here. "She's been a terrific partner, a mentor and an extraordinary mom to our own Army family," he says. "Walter Reed has a particularly important role in military medicine and an important role in the history of American medicine - both the man and the institution named after him," Schoomaker continues. "To be associated with this, especially as the commanding general, is an extraordinary privilege."
Because of recent incidents, Schoomaker readily admits that WRAMC has lost some trust with the American people.
"The experience of being a patient and the patient's family is to find trust in the people who are going to care for you," he explains. "Frankly, we've never lost that trust for a very large amount of what we do here. I've not heard from any member of the Army, the
Department of Defense, Congress nor the public at large, who does not understand what we've been faced with here, especially on the inpatient side, and who's lost faith and confidence in what we do.
In fact, I hear the opposite. I hear about the heroic stories of healing, rehabilitation and recovery. Even in those few regrettable cases in which we've lost a Warrior, the care and compassion is extended to that patient and the family. But in the ambulatory care arena [outpatients], we have lost some trust of our Warriors and their families.
Schoomaker said he believes WRAMC has come a long way in six weeks in regaining lost trust of the American people because of improvements made here. "First, because we took the loss of that trust very seriously, and we have made conscious, deliberate and rapid improvements in those things we could change right away.
Before coming to Walter Reed, Schoomaker served as commanding general of the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command and Fort Detrick, Md. His main goals at WRAMC and the NARMC include reinforcing and continuing to help the WRAMC-NARMC team regain its footing and redirect it's path after stumbling. "That's going to restore the needed trust and confidence of the Army and the American people in the care here."
Schoomaker praised the WRAMC team's efforts during the unannounced visit by the Joint Commission in March, which occurred during inspection visits by the Independent Review Group and Congressional committees and subcommittees.
The Joint Commission is the nation's predominant standards-setting and accrediting body in health care. The commission accredits nearly 15,000 health-care organizations, both civilian and military, and programs in the United States. Walter Reed has earned the Joint Commission's Gold Seal of Approval.
"I commend and thank the community at large for what they've done to step up to the plate and meet these unprecedented challenges. This really is a sign of their teamwork, he added. "[The team] showed them what we did well, as well as what we didn't do so well and set about making needed improvements."
"Teambuilding is a lot of what I'm about and a lot of what I'm going to focus on while I'm here," Schoomaker said. Communication will also receive a lot of focus. "I'm eager to communicate with the hospital community,