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DHA transition discussion hosted at Naval Hospital Bremerton

Air Force Maj. Gen. Lee E. Payne, Assistant Director for Combat Support Agency, Defense Health Agency explained to Naval Hospital Bremerton staff members during a Town Hall meeting there are four overlapping areas of focus for DHA which are great outcomes, ready medical force, satisfied patients, and fulfilled staff, all contributing to the goal of having a medically ready force and a ready medical force. Air Force Maj. Gen. Lee E. Payne, Assistant Director for Combat Support Agency, Defense Health Agency, explained to Naval Hospital Bremerton staff members during a Town Hall meeting there are four overlapping areas of focus for DHA which are great outcomes, ready medical force, satisfied patients, and fulfilled staff, all contributing to the goal of having a medically ready force and a ready medical force. (U.S. Navy photo by Douglas H. Stutz)

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Just as every orchestra relies on every musician, so does the Defense Health Agency (DHA) depend upon all military medical treatment facilities (MTF) like Naval Hospital Bremerton (NHB).

That fitting analogy goes even further, stressed Air Force Maj. Gen. Lee E. Payne, Assistant Director for Combat Support Agency, Defense Health Agency.

“The beautiful sound of an orchestra is what we hear, but it takes all instruments to make it. If the string section goes elsewhere to perform, we have to backfill for them. How we go about making that change is going to be part of how we do business in DHA,” said Payne.

That business – the transition of administrative oversight to DHA - was the main emphasis with NHB hosting Payne, Dec. 10, 2019.

His visit brought together Pacific Northwest Air Force, Army, and Navy medical leadership for in-depth discussion on the transition, as well as assessment of needed medical support for mission readiness in caring for Sailors, Marines – including family members – and operational forces in meeting assigned strategic goals.

Payne’s trip to NHB was but one of many to locales throughout the U.S., following implementation of the National Defense Authorization Acts of Fiscal Years 2017, 2018, and 2019, that required all service branches to transition administration and management of all continental U.S. MTFs to DHA. This included NHB, Naval Health Clinic Oak Harbor, Madigan Army Medical Group, and the U.S. Air Force 62nd Medical Squadron, Joint Base Lewis McChord.

“There’s been confusion, ambiguity and a lot of change. What’s real important is the dialogue(s) we’re having. What we’re trying to accomplish is a medically ready force and a ready medical force. All of our medical staff have to be current, competent and ready to do the job,” explained Payne during a town hall meeting for staff, citing four areas of DHA focus; great outcomes, ready medical force, satisfied patients, and fulfilled staff.

“The most important outcome for us is a medically ready force. Our job is to make sure all are ready and prepared, as well as their families back home. And if harmed, we have to be ready to care for them,” Payne said.

Each MTF has sustained their team-based competency and proficiency to enable a ready medical force. Yet not without challenges.

“None of us are ever prepared for what we see in combat. But we have to be really creative to preserve our ‘fight tonight’ capability and competency,” Payne emphasized.

“One of the reasons we’ve had so much success at point of injury on the battlefield is because of the hospital corpsman. Corpsmen are game changers. It’s not just doctors. Docs, nurses and corpsmen all work together as a team and combine that experience and training for mission execution,” added Payne, sharing that although there will be Tactical Combat Casualty Care (TCCC) standardized training, what will be done by corpsmen will be defined by their service branch needs.

Satisfied patients, Payne attested, are those who believe it’s advantageous to get their health care needs at an MTF.

“We want our patients to feel fortunate for their care. Are they happy with their plan? Do they choose to come to us when they could go elsewhere? The patient that passes two or three similar civilian medical facilities to come to ours, that’s loyalty. That’s the end state,” said Payne.

The mandate from Congress and Department of Defense-directed reforms has the DHA responsible for health care delivery and business operations across all MTFs, along with integrating and standardizing care to provide every active duty, retiree, and family member patient a consistent, high-quality health care experience no matter where they are.

“The transition is going to be slow and for the next year. We will continue to take direction and request support from Navy Medicine West/Naval Medical Forces Pacific, while the DHA puts the structures, people and processes in place. It is expected that it will take a full year before the DHA reaches full operating capability,” shared Navy Capt. Shannon Johnson, Naval Hospital Bremerton commanding officer.

With approximately 1,400 staff members at NHB including more than 400 civil service employees, Payne specifically addressed those in the audience hoping that they felt joy and purpose working in the Military Health System.

“No finer group of people. Many, like myself, choose to serve something larger than themselves. This is an opportunity for our civilian force. There will be no reduction in force. There will be turbulent waters, but we’ll get through,” Payne said.

Payne’s responsibilities include oversight and supervision of the activities in support of the Joint Staff and the Combatant Commands including Public Health, Medical Logistics, Armed Forces Blood Program, Armed Forces Medical Examiner, Readiness and Emergency Operations, Force Readiness programs and the Joint Trauma System. He also took time to meet with Navy operational leadership in the Pacific Northwest, visiting with Navy Rear Adm. Christopher Scott Gray, Commander, Navy Region Northwest and Navy Rear Adm. Douglas Perry, Commander, Submarine Group Nine, along with an office call with the Office of Civilian Human Resources.

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