First Change of Command at Lovell FHCC
Sailors dressed in whites lined the railings of the “upper deck” overlooking the ceremony floor, the Lovell Federal Health Care Center’s civilian director was “piped aboard” along with U.S. Navy leaders in the official party, and accolades included special thanks from the Secretary of Veterans Affairs when U.S. Navy Capt. David J. Beardsley changed command with the new Commanding Officer and Deputy Director Capt. José A. Acosta.
The formal change of command ceremony – steeped with Navy custom and laced with firsts – represented the best traditions of both the Navy and the VA, while cementing the successes of the nation’s first federal health care center, now well into its second year of existence as an integrated medical facility.
A crowd of several hundred people, including local leaders and politicians as well as Lovell FHCC staff and volunteers, gathered in the basement of the FHCC’s new Ambulatory Care Center to honor Beardsley and to welcome Acosta to the North Chicago, Ill. medical facility.
“You have just completed a one-of-a-kind undertaking,” read a letter of appreciation presented to Beardsley signed by Dr. Jonathan Woodson, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs.
Beardsley, who became the center’s first commanding officer as well as deputy director upon integration in October, 2010, was a “champion” for the FHCC’s Veteran, military and military family member patients from “day one,” said Lovell FHCC Director Patrick R. Sullivan. Sullivan praised Beardsley’s willingness to “push the envelope and push us to take smart risks for the benefit of our patients, staff and volunteers.”
Those “smart risks” have paid off in countless ways during Beardsley’s tenure as the “first Navy commanding officer to pioneer a true merger between Navy and Veterans Affairs medical facilities,” said Wagner, who presided over the formal relinquishment of command from Beardsley to Acosta. “Under his guidance, occupation of the new $200 million Ambulatory Care Clinic occurred on budget, within scope, and on time. His vision enabled him to lead the Department of Defense’s effort as they worked through the legal, cultural and organizational challenges of this unprecedented partnership.”
Wagner opened her remarks by explaining the history of the change of command ceremony. “Today’s change of command is a custom wholly Naval without equivalent counterpart in the Army or the Air Force,” she said.
“Custom has established that this ceremony be formal and impressive – designed to strengthen that respect for the authority vital to any military organization. Having all hands present to hear the reading of official orders hearkens back to the days when movement of mail and people was a very slow process. This procedure was intended to ensure only authorized officers held command and that all aboard were aware of the transfer of authority as well as the authenticity of the transfer.”
Beardsley, who has served 32 years in the Navy and will retire later this year, thanked his “crew” first and foremost, for their perserverance and dedication “to this remarkable institution. “
During his remarks, he told the story of how downsizing of Navy medical facilities at nearby Naval Station Great Lakes and fiscal pressure on the VA lead to the “out-of-the box” thinking that created the Lovell FHCC, “the largest facility, VA and Navy, to be joined in any way. We combined the key talents of both, and it wasn’t easy.”
The integration required combining not only the customs and courtesies of two distinct government entities but also the medical records “had to talk to each other,” he said. “There had to be a bridge between the two systems. This has been a daunting task and as of yet, not completed.”
Beardsley, an anesthesiologist in the Navy Medical Corps, told the story of his father’s and wife’s loyal service to the Navy. “It’s in my blood,” he said, emotionally thanking his four sons and wife for their ongoing support of his career.
Acosta, who comes to the FHCC from Tripler Army Medical Center in Hawaii, is a Navy surgeon. Acosta also thanked his immediate family and his father, “called Poppy in Puerto Rico where traveled from to be here,” he said, noting his father’s career as a physician for the VA.
“I’m honored and humbled to be selected for this command,” Acosta said. “To me, this is one of the most sacred of all duties to take care of the health of those who served, who were willing to lay down their lives for our country.”