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Army Suspends Top Doctor for Western Region

Brig. Gen. John Cho
Brig. Gen. John Cho

The Army suspended the general in charge of military health care in 20 Western states Friday in the latest fallout from allegations of poor patient care and infection control in the vast $52 billion Military Health System.

In a brief statement, the Army said that Lt. Gen. Patricia Horoho, the Army's Surgeon General, had suspended indefinitely Brig. Gen. John M. Cho, who for less than a year has been in charge of the Western Regional Medical Command.

The statement gave no specifics on the reasons for Cho's suspension, but said it was effective Sept. 4 and would continue "pending the outcome of an inquiry centered on the command climate of the- organization."

Working from Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington, Cho had been in charge of oversight of the 11 Army military treatment facilities and 11 Warrior Transition Units across the entire 20-state Western region and the Army's health care delivery to nearly 400,000 active, National Guard and Reserve soldiers, their families, retirees and their family members.

Cho, a West Point graduate, was the first active-duty soldier of Korean descent to achieve the rank of brigadier general. He previously served as the deputy commander for support at the Army Medical Command.

Cho's suspension came as Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, chairman of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, called on Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to investigate allegations of wrongdoing and malpractice at military hospitals and report his findings to the subcommittee.

In a letter to Hagel, Durbin wrote: "In light of deeply concerning reports of subpar care and mismanagement within the Military Health System, I ask that all cases of permanent harm or death are thoroughly and impartially investigated."

Durbin noted that Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work began a review of the Military Health System last May.

"The Department's ongoing review of the health care system should look carefully at the quality of care, in addition to ensuring that patient care is the system's primary mission," Durbin said.

Hagel ordered the review by Work shortly after Horoho fired Col. Steven Brewster, commander of the Womack Army Medical Center at Fort Bragg, N.C. Brewster was relieved after Horoho and other superiors  "lost trust and confidence" in him, the Army said in a statement.

Horoho, the former head nurse at Womack, also suspended the deputy commanders for clinical services, nursing and administration at Womack.

Conditions at Womack were featured in New York Times reports based on months of investigation showing "a pattern of avoidable errors that has led to injuries and contributed to some deaths" in Military Health System facilities.

The reports documented widespread problems in infection control and patient safety, and found that babies born in military hospitals were twice as likely to suffer injuries as newborns nationally.

The Military Health System has 56 hospitals and 361 clinics worldwide serving 9.6 million beneficiaries in a system that is separate from the Veterans Affairs Department. The beneficiaries include 1.45 million active duty service members, 1.7 million active duty family members and 610,000 retired service members.

The beneficiaries are served by more than 133,000 military and civilian doctors, nurses, medical educators, researchers, and other health professionals.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at richard.sisk@monster.com

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