An Army plan to cut costs and restructure its medical commands advanced on Tuesday when a general at Joint Base Lewis-McChord stepped down as the last official leader of the Western Regional Medical Command.
The change marks another milestone in the unwinding of a headquarters that until recently managed most Army hospitals west of the Mississippi.
Maj. Gen. Thomas Tempel led the medical command at JBLM for 14 months. He will move on to lead a new headquarters in San Antonio called Regional Health Command – Central. It oversees Army medicine in the Midwest and Rockies. Army hospitals in those states until recently reported to the command at JBLM.
Tempel arrived at JBLM in the midst of a crisis, when his predecessor, Brig. Gen. John Cho, was suspended from command because of an investigation into his leadership style. The Army did not reinstate Cho as a commander. Tempel kept the position.
Maj. Gen. Barbara Holcomb, a senior officer from Army Medical Command, spoke at Tuesday’s farewell ceremony and praised Tempel’s “command climate and culture” during his leadership at JBLM.
Tempel is being succeeded temporarily by his chief of staff, Col. Christopher Gruber, who will lead the headquarters for two to three months.
The headquarters continues to manage Madigan Army Medical Center, an Army hospital in Alaska and a clinic in California. It also oversees an organization that manages all military medical care in the Puget Sound region.
Soon, those hospitals will fall under the supervision of a Hawaii-based headquarters called Regional Health Command – Pacific. That office will keep a deputy commander at JBLM to manage care in the Puget Sound, Alaska and California.
About 60 jobs are moving from JBLM to Hawaii because of the reorganization. It won’t change services provided to patients at Madigan.
At JBLM, Tempel’s priorities centered on improving the health of soldiers and on enhancing collaboration between Army and Navy hospitals in the Puget Sound region.
He said the readiness rate — which refers to the percentage of soldiers healthy enough to deploy immediately — had increased significantly in the past year.
“This is an amazing team I’ve been fortunate to be a part of,” he said Tuesday. “It is truly a team effort here to solve the collective problem we have with readiness.”