The Defense Health Agency Has a New Chief -- Another Army Doctor

Maj. Gen. Telita Crosland.
Maj. Gen. Telita Crosland addresses Department of Defense public health professionals during the plenary session of the fourth annual Army Public Health Course at Joint Base McGuire Dix Lakehurst, New Jersey, July 30, 2019. (U.S. Army Photo by Graham Snodgrass)

An Army general has taken the helm of the Defense Health Agency, continuing Army leadership of the nearly 10-year-old organization.

Maj. Gen. Telita Crosland, previously the Army's deputy surgeon general, assumed the directorship of the Defense Health Agency in a ceremony Tuesday at the DHA headquarters in Falls Church, Virginia.

Crosland succeeds Army Lt. Gen. Ronald Place, who retired last month after three decades of service. Crosland is the fourth director of the agency, established in 2013 to provide administrative and logistical support for the military health system, and is now responsible for operating all Defense Department medical centers, hospitals and clinics.

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Crosland will pin on a third star -- the rank reserved for the position -- on Jan. 20. She is a family physician by training, a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences. She has held a series of commands with expanding duties, including serving as head of the Army Medical Department at Fort Campbell, Kentucky.

"General Crosland has shown exactly the kind of perseverance, dedication and excellence that will serve her, and us, so well in her new position," said Seileen Mullen, acting assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs, during the ceremony.

As director, Crosland will oversee a change in managed care contractors for the Defense Department's domestic health care program, Tricare, for active-duty personnel, retirees and their families.

The DoD announced last month that Humana Military and TriWest Healthcare Alliance had been awarded contracts worth up to $136 billion over a nine-year period to oversee the Tricare East and Tricare West regions, respectively.

She also will oversee the expected transition of all military health facilities to a new electronic health records system, MHS Genesis, now used at 92 military hospitals and clinics.

In his stint as DHA director, Place oversaw the transition of all medical facilities run by the military services to the agency, the rollout of the MHS Genesis medical records system and the assumption of many logistics, administrative and educational functions of the military health system.

He weathered an effort by the services to stop the transfer of all medical facilities to the Defense Health Agency -- a move they fought as the COVID-19 pandemic proved that the new arrangement was dysfunctional at the time.

In early March 2020, Air Force and Army surgeons general called the reorganization an "extremely difficult" and "complicated merger" of cultures and said the DHA was not ready for the changes.

Shortly thereafter, tensions arose over leadership and responsibilities of the service medical commands and DHA. At one point, commanders at Malcolm Grow Medical Center at Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland, and DHA leadership argued over who was responsible for the COVID-19 screening tents in the parking lot.

"There are definitely turf battles going on," a source, a DoD civilian employee, told at the time. "[The services] are making it very hard."

Place led the agency at a time when more than 740,000 military personnel and beneficiaries contracted COVID-19 and nearly 9 million vaccines were administered. To date, the DoD has lost 609 people to the pandemic, including 96 service members, 417 civilian employees, 36 dependents and 141 contractors.

For its work under Place's leadership, the DHA was awarded the Joint Meritorious Unit Award for Excellence for its response to the pandemic and lessening its spread.

Also during Place’s tenure, Congress, the Defense Department and the individual medical commands grappled with the staffing of military medical units, given reforms that require the services to focus on operational support and training.

At one point, roughly 18,000 medical billets were slated to be cut; that has winnowed down to below 13,000, with the services revisiting exactly how many people they need to meet requirements. Some of the positions have gone unfilled as people move to different duty stations or retire, attrition that has strained the military health system in some locations.

"Our military health mission endures. But organizations, on the other hand, must evolve. High reliability is about adaptation; it's about improvement. And sometimes that means bringing in a completely new organization, in this case the Defense Health Agency," Place said at the ceremony marking the changeover.

Crosland said her vision for the DHA is to "care for the joint force and those we are privileged to serve -- anytime, anywhere -- always."

"I'm thankful for this opportunity and grateful to this team, and excited about partnering with our surgeons general, our industry partners, and our patients during a dynamic period in health care," Crosland said. "I love what we do in our military health system in service to our country and those we are privileged to serve."

-- Patricia Kime can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @patriciakime.

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