Military Patients Will 'Absolutely Positively' See Better Care After Merger, DHA Head Says

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Army Lt. Gen. Ronald Place, who became the Defense Health Agency director when Navy Vice Adm. Raquel Bono retired in August 2019, is leading the Tricare managing agency during one of the military health system's largest reorganizations. Dorothy Mills-Gregg/Military.com
Army Lt. Gen. Ronald Place, who became the Defense Health Agency director when Navy Vice Adm. Raquel Bono retired in August 2019, is leading the Tricare managing agency during one of the military health system's largest reorganizations. Dorothy Mills-Gregg/Military.com

The transition of military medical facilities to the Defense Health Agency's management should be invisible to patients, but they should notice improvements to care, the agency’s director says.

Lt. Gen. Ronald Place, who became DHA’s third director in September, told Military.com in an interview this month that service members and their families should not see a change to protocol as all of the services' clinics and hospitals, about 245 of them across the country, transition to the DHA's care.

"They shouldn't notice that it was an Army medicine facility, Navy medicine facility, Air Force facility and now it's a DHA facility," he said. "That should all be invisible."

But Place they "absolutely positively" should see improved care.

Related: Military Services Wanted Major Health Care Personnel Cuts, New DHA Director Says

"The majority of these administrative changes," he said, "at least in the short term, are for making it easier for our patients to understand our system and for us to be able to take care of them."

Faster prescription pickups and painless appointment booking off base are the types of improvements patients should see when the DHA standardizes management of clinics and hospitals across the military health system, Place said.

Congress mandated the military medical reorganization, which is the largest change in decades, in 2017. Lawmakers hoped it would save money and let the services focus more on military readiness and delivering care rather than managing clinics and hospitals.

Place said the DHA found that most of the system's expertise was in each service's medicine headquarters. A longer transition would have reduced staff in those headquarters, causing problems, he explained.

So implementation of the transition plan was shortened last summer from four years to three. This means management of all medical treatment facilities across the U.S. began Oct. 1; the DHA will take over overseas military medical facilities on Oct. 1, 2020.

"... We believe we made [the transition] short enough to minimize the risk of not enough staff in the headquarters but long enough to be able to do the 'This is who's doing that now. This is who's doing it in the future. What's the handoff? What's the discussion between them?' That sort of thing," Place said.

-- Dorothy Mills-Gregg can be reached at dorothy.mills-gregg@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @DMillsGregg.

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