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HEIDELBERG, Germany — When the Walter Reed scandal broke a few weeks ago, the general responsible for soldiers’ health care in Europe said he his immediate response could be captured in one syllable.

“My reaction – ‘Wow!’” said Brig. Gen. David Rubenstein. “That’s not good news I’m hearing.”

He said he thought, “How are we doing here? Are we doing as well as I think we’re doing?”

Rubenstein, commander of the European Regional Medical Command, said in an interview this week that because he’d already visited his command’s 88 medical, dental and veterinary clinics and two hospitals, he felt reasonably certain that conditions were good.

Rubenstein said he believed that Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, where soldiers come from Iraq or Afghanistan to get short-term outpatient care before being sent back downrange, was doing a good job.

“I listened to the news, and I turned to our commanders and said, ‘I’ve taken a very close look at Landstuhl and what it does and just came away knowing we’re doing a good job.’”

And after several rechecks and inspections, he said, his confidence was confirmed.

Conditions at Landstuhl were nothing like those for outpatients at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, the nation’s premier military hospital. Stories in the Washington Post described moldy walls, bad plumbing and vermin in one outpatient building, and a bureaucratic maze for outpatients, who had to file 22 documents with eight different commands, on average. Files were frequently lost and patients were waiting months for care.

But soldiers being treated at Landstuhl publicly raved about the quality of their care.

“Boring is good,” Rubenstein said. “Taking care of your patients is better. And we’re doing that every day.”

Rubenstein, a longtime hospital administrator, said he believed the deficiencies at Walter Reed had to do with administration problems, including the “long and difficult process” for soldiers to receive physical disability payments. “Our regulations say we don’t even start a medical separation process until we’re sure the rehabilitation process is complete,” he said.

“Tied to that, is when a patient is held for treatment — for six, nine, 12 months — there are cabin fever problems that set in.

“That’s where commanders and platoon sergeants need to be involved in keeping an eye on their soldiers. What we do here is keep our patients gainfully employed. … We have a formation every morning. At night, we count every nose. We get them to their appointments.”

After a comment was made that there were case managers and platoon sergeants at Walter Reed, and that brain-injured soldiers and others got little help from them, Rubenstein repeated, “Ours are under the control of case managers and platoon sergeants.”

Landstuhl’s outpatient population is smaller and much different than Walter Reed’s. They’re there an average of two weeks, for instance, with relatively minor injuries and are to be sent back to combat; they’re not being seen because of grievous life-changing, career-ending wounds, such as brain injuries and amputations. Still, the Landstuhl hospital commander decided to move some of the outpatients into newer facilities after the Walter Reed stories.

“One of the things I’m proud about with ERMC is we learn,” Rubenstein said. “This gave us a chance to look at what we’re doing here.”

Military health care leader to chair professional society

The commander of the European Regional Medical Command has been elected chairman of a professional society for health care administrators.

Brig. Gen. David Rubenstein was elected chairman of the American College of Healthcare Executives this weekend at a conference in New Orleans. The college is an international professional society of more than 30,000 health care executives who lead hospitals, health care systems and other health care organizations, according to its Web site.

“ACHE is known for its prestigious credentialing and educational programs and its annual Congress on Healthcare Leadership, which draws more than 4,000 participants each year,” the Web site stated. ACHE is also known for groundbreaking research and its career development and public policy programs, according to the site.

Rubenstein has served as a health care executive and leader in the Army for 30 years. His experience includes having commanded hospitals and headquarters at every level of the Army medical department and military health system, according to a release announcing his appointment.

From staff reports

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Nancy is an Italy-based reporter for Stars and Stripes who writes about military health, legal and social issues. An upstate New York native who served three years in the U.S. Army before graduating from the University of Arizona, she previously worked at The Anchorage Daily News and The Seattle Times. Over her nearly 40-year journalism career she’s won several regional and national awards for her stories and was part of a newsroom-wide team at the Anchorage Daily News that was awarded the 1989 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.
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