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    Walter Reed Bethesda Focuses on Diversity, Equity, Inclusion

    Walter Reed Bethesda Focuses on Diversity, Equity, Inclusion

    Photo By Bernard Little | A panel discusses transgender services services offered at Walter Reed National...... read more read more



    Story by Bernard Little 

    Walter Reed National Military Medical Center

    Walter Reed Bethesda (WRB) hosted its first three Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) speaker’s panels in May, June and July at the medical center.
    Discussions during the sessions focused on race and diversity, the experiences of WRB team members who are a part of the LGBTQ+ community, and transgender services at the medical center.
    Former Walter Reed National Military Medical Center (WRNMMC) director, retired Army Col. (Dr.) Andrew Barr, began the DEI Council and speaker’s panel at WRNMMC during the summer of 2020 following the murder of George Floyd and an increased call by individuals and groups for the nation to acknowledge and focus on issues of social injustice. Following unrest and protests throughout the nation and around the globe, Barr hosted a number of meetings with the WRNMMC staff focused on DEI. “You asked for a broader conversation of these topics so that we might celebrate our diversity, gain a deeper understanding of our entire team, and build unity,” he stated.
    WRNMMC hosted retired Brig. Gen. (Dr.) Norvell Coots for its first DEI speaker’s panel in May. Coots, president and CEO of Holy Cross Health and president and CEO of the Maryland Region of Trinity Health, served as the last commanding officer of Walter Reed Army Medical Center before it realigned with the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda for form WRNMMC in the fall of 2011.
    Coots discussed the challenges he faced moving up the ranks as a person of color in and out of uniform. He also addressed how organizations can incorporate DEI within their agencies.
    “Your organizations and leaders have to look like the people they lead and serve,” Coots said. “People have to be able to see themselves in leadership. People have to be able to see themselves on the wards. People have to be able to see themselves in their doctors, nurses and medical staff. Not only does this make them feel comfortable, but it feeds into our future generations. If you never see yourself, you never believe you can be that. I tell young people to never give up on yourself. If you don’t believe in yourself, why would you expect someone else to believe in you? Never give up on your dreams.”
    The second DEI speaker’s panel celebrated Pride Month during June.
    Chief Hospital Corpsman Donnell Proctor said, “Pride Month means being able to say, ‘I’m here and I’m going to be my authentic self.’ Pride Month represents the many obstacles and challenges members of the LGBTQ+ community have gone through, and the many milestones achieved thus far. There have been measurable successes, but there’s still work that needs to be done. Post ‘Don’t ask, Don’t tell,’ the most measurable contribution, I believe, is being able to have a voice and to speak up, and to have someone who can advocate for you.”
    “You have to look at a person for who they are and what they’re bringing to the table,” Proctor added. “If a person is producing, handling business and meeting the mission’s requirements, as well as training, leading, guiding, empowering and challenging people, why are you stuck [in your prejudice and biases]?”
    The third speaker’s panel, held in July, focused on transgender care services.
    “People thrive when they are acknowledged and supported in their authentic selves,” said Army Lt. Col. (Dr.) Noelle Larson, chief of pediatric endocrinology and co-chair of WRNMMC’s transgender care program. “When one of our team members thrives, we thrive as a team,” she added.
    Larson said WRNMMC has an “evolving and growing” transgender care program, providing patient-centered care focused on removing barriers wherever they may exist, “recognizing that optimal care for patients is really optimal medical readiness for our service members.” She explained a role of her as co-chair of the transgender care program is assisting people with “navigating, interpreting and digesting” policies and services for those in uniform.
    The Air Force has a centralized approach for their transgender service members, Larson explained. In San Antonio, Texas, the Air Force operates the Transgender Health Medical Evaluation Unit, a global clinical resource for all Department of the Air Force members, including Air Reserve Component and Air National Guard, as well as Space Force personnel, seeking to initiate or continue gender transition while in service. The unit also serves as a consultative resource for military treatment facility (MTF) providers and commanders working with transgender service members.
    The Navy program for transgender service member has evolved into a regionalized care model in which there’s the Navy Medicine West (NMW) Transgender Care Team in San Diego, California, and the Navy Medicine East (NME) Transgender Care Team in Portsmouth, Virginia, Larson added.
    The Army has a more decentralized care model, Larson continued. She explained each Army facility has a transgender care team comprised of members from various backgrounds and specialties.
    Dr. Brandy Hellman, a clinical psychologist and co-chair of the WRNMMC’s transgender care program, said there is not a “cookie-cutter approach” within the transgender care program at Walter Reed Bethesda. Program facilitators help service members navigate the transgender care process by trying to understand the service members’ desires, and educating them on what services are available.
    U.S. Public Health Service Capt. Ljuca “L.J.” Belisto, a nurse in acute care case management and world-class powerlifter, was diagnosed as transgender in 2013 at WRNMMC. “It was very relieving, but I always felt comfortable with who I am. I felt very much at peace,” Belisto said.
    “Now, I think things are a lot more open, and people are more willing to have these discussions,” Belisto said. Belisto said most people now seem to be more accepting and wanting to support the patient, which “helps [Belisto] to be at peace and living day to day. It’s been a journey, but it hasn’t been an easy journey,” the captain said.
    Panel members stressed the importance for beneficiaries to communicate their desires to their primary care managers, and not to give up. “It’s just being resilient and comfortable with who you are and knowing that there will be resolution if you’re patient enough to wait it out. We didn’t [join the uniformed services] to get this care. We took our oath just like everyone else. Respect those who are in [the services] and want to serve honorably,” Belisto said.



    Date Taken: 08.02.2021
    Date Posted: 09.01.2021 09:37
    Story ID: 402770
    Location: BETHESDA, MD, US

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