Col. Ron Stephens, commander of Fort Bragg’s Womack Army Medical Center will pass command to Col. Lance Raney on Jan. 8. Stephens is leaving this week to serve as Deputy Commander, Army Pacific Regional Health Command. He’s been at Womack since May of 2014, when he replaced Col. Steven Brewster who was relieved of command following the unexpected deaths of two patients and what the Army describes as a loss of confidence by his superiors.
“The past is in the past…we are looking to the future,” Stephens told his staff of more than 4,000. “We do have some work to do.”
Stephens said he was comfortable coming to Womack because he knew the organization well. “We have re-established faith, trust and confidence in the staff, leaders around Fort Bragg and the patients whom we serve,” he said. “We have placed a relentless focus on safety, which was a key concern.”
Acknowledging that soldier readiness is priority one, Stephens pointed out the medical center also focuses on research, collaboration with other medical facilities, education and training. Womack has the only podiatry residency in the Army healthcare system.
Stephens says the region’s medical community is facing a constant turnover of clinicians that causes wait times he has worked hard to manage. He spoke of opportunities that present themselves at other facilities which results in resignations.
“We have been short of primary care providers since I got here,” Dr. Stephens said. “Constant turnover is a constant problem.”
Womack has 120,000 patients enrolled in its direct care system… the largest in the Army. Another 30,000 are assigned to civilian care providers. Fort Bragg’s pharmacy is the busiest in the Department of Defense.
The budget he began with this year was higher than the year before and the year before that, Stephens observed. He declined to criticize the budget process noting that “Budgetary opportunities are based on primary care clinics and number of patients…we never, ever compromise safety and quality of care.”
He expects that over the next few months with the hiring of additional providers, Womack will be able to add thousands to its enrollment.
Stephens said departing Womack Army Medical Center and the privilege of command “is bitter sweet…I am comfortable that we have the programs and policies and initiatives in place that will allow my successor to hit his stride and Womack Army Medical center will continue to move forward. I wish I could have stayed longer.” Col Stephens notes that he was a soldier before he became a doctor. He spent his first 10 years in the Army as an enlisted man, having joined as a member of the Georgia National Guard. He was commissioned after graduating from his college ROTC program. Dr. Stephens has spent the last 20 years as an Army physician, and is grateful for “the community’s unwavering support of the Army and Army medicine.”