New defense health director vows to focus on patients as ‘human beings’


As the army’s deputy surgeon general, Lt. Gen. Telita Crosland manages the deployment of US military personnel to field hospitals, civilian medical centers, parking lots and public buildings nationwide to help combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

And in the midst of that global health crisis, she was tasked with overseeing health care for evacuees from Afghanistan, working with the Departments of State and Health and Human Services to care for thousands, providing medical care that ranged from the birth of babies to the treatment of measles.

All this, while unexpectedly raising her son as a single mother, after losing her husband before lockdown in 2020.

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“It’s been a sporting three years, to say the least,” Crosland said during an interview with reporters before her Jan. 20 promotion to lieutenant general. “I’m just extremely proud of the team, the entire military health system team. It’s the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, the Coast Guard, the Department of Defense, public health, all the medical entities in the United States came together.”

As of Jan. 3, Crosland is the new director of the Defense Health Agency, responsible for the health care of 9.6 million patients in the military health system, including Department of Defense hospitals and clinics and the Tricare health program.

She said her experience working with each service as well as her work as a GP will inform how she does her new job.

Crosland explained that family practice physicians tend to look at their patients through a holistic lens, concerned with their life situations, their nutrition, their fitness — their entire health. She said that health care is ultimately about improving the lives of service members and their families.

“I think people will see that coming out as the director. I’m very focused on the patient at the center. I’m very focused on the human,” Crosland said.

Crosland takes leadership of the Defense Health Agency as it nears completion of reforms built into the fiscal 2017 National Defense Authorization Act, which shift management of the military’s 51 hospitals, 424 health clinics and 248 dental clinics to the Defense Health Agency, and focus the military, Navy and Air Force medical commands to provide combat and in-garrison care for military personnel.

A 1989 graduate of the United States Military Academy, Crosland entered the Army in 1993 after earning a medical degree from the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences. A board-certified family physician, she has served in numerous clinical settings and managed clinics across the military, from South Korea to Texas, from Fort Lewis, Washington, to Grafenwoehr, Germany.

She has master’s degrees in public health and national resource strategies, attended spring school and has numerous awards and medals. She is the third black woman to be promoted to lieutenant general and the second army officer to lead the DHA.

She is, according to her former boss, Army Surgeon General Scott Dingle, “the worst woman in the military.”

“Anything she sets out to do is going to turn to gold because she has the Midas touch,” Dingle said during her promotion ceremony at Fort Myer in Arlington, Virginia.

In addition to handing over military medical facilities to her new agency, the Defense Department is also moving to a new electronic health record system, MHS Genesis, designed to interface with the Department of Veterans Affairs’ new system once both are completed. The record system will be operational in 138 military health facilities by the end of the year.

And in 2024, Tricare, the program that oversees private care for military beneficiaries, retirees and their families, is expected to undergo changes as the next generation of contracts, worth up to $136 billion, take effect, including one that newly allocated. regional contractor, TriWest, moves health care for up to a million beneficiaries.

Crosland said the transition for the military medical community, with DHA taking over management of facilities, has been “difficult,” although most of the painful work has already been done. But she has learned throughout the pandemic that the services, each with their unique cultures, also have more in common when it comes to providing medical care to their patients.

“We’re still a military health care system that has to take care of the force and the beneficiaries [that] we are privileged to serve. That ground truth, that true North, never changed,” Crosland said.

Among the first items Crosland is looking at is the reduction of network pharmacies by Express Scripts, the pharmacy benefit manager for Tricare.

Tricare lost nearly 15,000 retail pharmacies from its network when the stores refused to stay after receiving renewal contracts that offered lower reimbursement rates than they believed were economically feasible.

After a setback and the loss of a major chain of pharmacies in the Kroger grocery store family, Express Scripts offered a new contract and received responses from about 2,000 pharmacies to rejoin the network.

Hundreds of thousands of Tricare beneficiaries continue to be affected, with many saying they now face long wait times for their prescriptions or long drives to a network pharmacy.

According to Crosland, the DHA “went back to the contractor for a review” of the situation.

“We are literally down to the individual people who are affected,” she said.

Crosland acknowledged that the scope of her work at the DHA can make it all consuming, but she has priorities that will keep her grounded, such as plans to stay in touch with beneficiaries, medical leadership and staff through in-person meetings in the Washington , DC, region and virtual meetings across the system.

“I’m going to be tired of trying… I think it’s important to make the effort even if I won’t get to every place. It helps me stay current. It helps me stay relevant,” she said.

And she has her son Jackson, now 12, who keeps her married, she said. According to Crosland, Jackson’s resilience and positive attitude allow her to continue serving in a high-stakes position without worrying about him.

“I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop. He went to middle school and I said, ‘OK, here it comes,’ and he’s still just, it’s all good. He’s happy. He’s not not perfect, but he is my perfect.” she said.

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

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