After leading the integration efforts of two renowned military treatment facilities, and pioneering endeavors to establish the Nation’s Medical Center, Walter Reed National Military Medical Center (WRNMMC) Chief of Staff, Col. Charles Callahan was bid farewell, during a celebration on June 15.
Board-certified in pediatrics and pediatric pulmonology, Callahan arrived at the former National Naval Medical Center (NNMC) on July 26, 2010, almost a year prior to its integration with Walter Reed Army Medical Center (WRAMC). Named Deputy Commander, and later Chief of Staff, Callahan was NNMC’s first Army officer to serve in this position.
“It was a little intimidating for me. It was a brand new position, in a brand new system for me,” Callahan said. In a recent “goodbye” email to staff, he stated, “There just aren’t adequate words to describe how thankful I am to have served with you as the last Deputy Commander of National Naval Medical Center and Walter Reed Bethesda’s first Chief of Staff. These have been the most rewarding years of my nearly three decades of military service.”
In the months prior to filling this new role at NNMC, Callahan sought to prepare and gain perspective by meeting with both Navy and Army flag officers, as well as many senior leaders who had worked in this capacity. When he arrived at the flagship of Navy Medicine, he said he felt well prepared, and, “certainly was well welcomed by the community here.”
His goal was “to be the vanguard of a successful integration,” he explained. To ensure fruition, he immediately started working with other senior leaders to brand the new facility. “We worked on standards of professional excellence and we worked on hospital governance.”
Callahan went on to note he felt as though he was at an advantage leading these efforts and taking on these new challenges, having worked as the deputy commander for Clinical Services at WRAMC from 2005 to 2008. During that time, he built relationships with many key players at both NNMC and WRAMC, he said, naming former NNMC Commander, Rear Adm. Matthew L. Nathan, as well as Navy Capt. David Bitonti, special assistant to the commander, who at the time was NNMC’s Deputy Commander for Integration and Transition. Prior to joining NNMC, from 2008 to 2010, he assumed command of the former DeWitt Army Community Hospital and Health Care Network, now known as Fort Belvoir Community Hospital, where he will return, and assume command, this July.
He could not take full credit of the seamless transition for which he strived, he said, stating that it was the staff at the two medical centers who accomplished the “most complex” integration in medical history. There has been nothing quite like this, and the fact that it was accomplished amidst a war, through multiple peaks in casualties, he said, “That all happened without us missing a beat. I’m proud of that.”
Not only did he take pride in watching the staff as they came together during this time of transition, it was also rewarding to have the new WRNMMC pass a Joint Commission survey, he said, “with flying colors,” just months after integrating. “A real tribute to the folks at the ground and deck-plate level … they just did an amazing job.”
And these people are who he said he will miss most about his tenure. “The strength of any health care organization is its people and our ability to establish relationships, shared respect and shared reason, is the backbone of any healthcare organization.”
Over the last two years, Callahan has set forth several initiatives at the command, including the “It’s My House” philosophy, now awarded in the form of a pin to those staff members who exemplify a culture of integration. He has also been known for reiterating the phrase, “One Team, One Fight,” to further help instill this new environment. Additionally, he led a command climate survey, in October 2011, which demonstrated staff unity.
Recognizing the impact he has had on the command, the Chief of Staff was awarded the Legion of Merit (Gold Star) on June 12. The citation stated that he “masterfully and skillfully directed the day-to-day operations of the largest Department of Defense health care facility with 1.2 million patient visits annually, over 6,500 military and civilian personnel and 2.2 million square feet of space during an unprecedented time of change.”
Upon presenting the award at the Strategic Plan Kick-Off, WRNMMC Commander Rear Adm. Alton L. Stocks said he fully expects Callahan to be selected for general, and gave the colonel a set of his own stars, traditionally donned by flag officers.
"I'm proud and honored to have served with Col. Callahan. His unwavering support and dedication to the mission and the care of our wounded warriors, during this historic time in the history of military medicine, will have an everlasting impact on the quality of care at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center,” Stocks stated.
Vice Adm. Matthew L. Nathan, Navy Surgeon General (SG) and former Commander of NNMC, served alongside Callahan up until integration last fall.
“Col. Callahan truly brought his professionalism and service reputation when he became the first Army colonel to fill the role as deputy commander at a Navy Medical Center nearly two years ago,” the SG stated. “During a time of transition and change, his commitment, enthusiasm and perseverance were invaluable. It was an honor to link arms with him, and accomplish such an amazing feat. I am proud to say that together, along with the support from our dedicated staff, we successfully created a culture of excellence. Without a doubt, Col. Callahan will continue achieving greatness in his career.”
Pediatric cardiologist Col. Thomas Burklow, WRNMMC’s Chief of Pediatrics, said he will miss Callahan’s mentorship. The two pediatricians first met in 1985 Callahan was a senior resident and Burklow was a visiting medical student at the former WRAMC.
“Even at that time, he stood himself apart, with his clinical confidence, [and] the way he approached patient care,” Burklow said.
Over the years, they frequently crossed paths. Burklow was assigned to WRAMC in 1996, then named chief of pediatrics in 2003, and later integrated chief of pediatrics in 2007, before ultimately becoming chief of pediatrics at WRNMMC upon integration. “Each time, [crossing paths with Callahan], he always was a person who had a more visionary way of what pediatrics should be, [and] military pediatrics,” Burklow said.
He also noted Callahan’s knack for bringing everyone together to work as a team. According to Burklow, the colonel has always been a role model he remains focused on the mission at hand, is a good listener and a strong family man.
Dr. Joan Gordon, on Special Assignment to the Chief of Staff via the American Red Cross, echoed the same sentiment. “Col. Callahan is a man of integrity who ‘walks the talk,’” she stated. “He does not just say it, he does it. He cares genuinely about the patients and staff.”
Gordon also recalled the colonel’s “Every Square Foot Inspection,” a program that helped lead to the successful Joint Commission survey in March.
“I have just been embraced by a culture I’ve never worked in before, that is the entire Navy culture,” Callahan stated. “I have just an enormous respect for everything I have learned, and witnessed.”
In early July, Walter Reed Bethesda will welcome its new chief of staff, Col. Ramona Fiorey, and until her arrival, Bitonti will serve as interim chief of staff.
“I am confident [Col. Ramona Fiorey] will enjoy the same support you have given me,” Callahan stated in a recent email to staff.
Fiorey, a native of Gordon, Ga., brings experience in leadership, having held positions such as chief of maternal-child health nursing; director of the Army Nurse Corps OB/GYN course; deputy commander for nursing; and most recently, deputy commander for patient services at Womack Army Medical Center in Fort Bragg, N.C. After earning her Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing from the Medical College of Georgia, a Master’s in Nursing from Clemson University and a Master’s in Public Health from Emory University, Fiorey practiced nursing for a decade in the civilian sector before she was commissioned as captain in the Army Nurse Corps in 1987. Her background includes pediatric, medical-surgical, OB/GYN and operating room nursing, and she has served as consultant to the Army Surgeon General for Obstetric Nursing from 1998 to 2002. Additionally, she is a graduate of the Command and General Staff College as well as the Army War College.
Over the years, Fiorey has worked in many assignments across the nation, including Bassett Army Community Hospital, Fort Wainwright, Alaska, Eisenhower Army Medical Center, Fort Gordon, Ga., and Tripler Army Medical Center, Hawaii. She has also has received many accolades, including the Meritorious Service Medal with Silver Oak Leaf, Army Commendation Medal with one oak leaf cluster, and the Army Achievement Medal with one oak leaf cluster.