The leader of the Army hospital at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, has been fired after senior Army medical leaders “lost trust and confidence in his command,” according to a statement from Army Medical Command.
Col. Steven Brewster was relieved of command at Womack Army Medical Center, and three of his deputies have been suspended. The moves come following the deaths of two young patients, according to a report in The New York Times.
Northern Regional Medical Commander Col. Robert Tenhet booted Brewster effective Tuesday and suspended the deputy commanders for clinical services, nursing and administration. Lt. Gen. Patricia Horoho, the head of Medical Command and Army surgeon general, approved Tenhet’s decision.
Col. Ronald Stephens assumed command of the hospital on Tuesday.
The move comes as the Pentagon announced late Tuesday that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered a 90-day review of the entire military health care system. Officials said Hagel’s announcement was unrelated to the situation at Womack.
The Army did not provide an official reason for Brewster’s firing, but the New York Times, citing unnamed Defense Department officials, reported that the shake up followed the recent deaths of an unnamed 24-year-old active-duty soldier and a 29-year-old mother of three.
The first of the two fatalities at Womack involved Racheal Marie Rice, who underwent a routine tubal ligation on May 16 and died the next morning, the Times reported, citing unnamed hospital staff members. Rice’s obituary also reports she died at Womack.
“Senior Army Medical leaders have lost trust and confidence in the Commander at the Womack Army Medical Center (WAMC), Fort Bragg, North Carolina to address the changes needed to maintain a high level of patient care,” according to Army Medical Command’s statement.
“Investigations into these issues are ongoing, and further action will be forthcoming. We assure you that the Army is committed to doing whatever is necessary to provide proper medical care to our Soldier and their Families.”
A Medical Command spokesperson confirmed the changes at Womack were due both to the patient deaths and to problems with surgical-infection control identified in March by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations, an independent body that accredits hospitals.
During the routine visit, inspectors found deficiencies with infection control procedures and the documentation of those procedures, though it was determined the problems had not resulted in any patient harm, the spokesperson said.
Following the inspection, Brewster announced the hospital would be delaying all elective procedures for two days — a “stand down” so that it could address the findings, the Fayetteville Observer reported at the time.
The hospital, which remains accredited, has about 2,300 employees. Brewster, in 2013, told reporters the hospital was planning to cut positions as part of a measure to bring expenses more in line with funding.
Attempts to reach Brewster for comment were not immediately successful.