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Army Surgeon General Suspends Trust Enhancement Program Following Investigation



Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled the name of the program director, Claudette Elliott.

The Army has suspended the Trust and Enhancement Sustainment Task Force, a program that was created to help improve patient care by building on trust. Documents from the investigation obtained by KUOW show that investigators found the task force lacked the structure and employee training standards needed to execute its mission.

In 2010 the tempo of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were saddling the Army’s Medical Treatment Facilities with thousands of soldiers in need of complex health care.

Around the same time Army medicine was being dogged by media reports and patient complaints about insensitive and substandard care at some of its largest hospitals.

[asset-pullquotes[{"quote": "Trust is the foundation of Army Medicine.", "style": "inset"}]]

In an effort to improve the situation, Army Surgeon General Lt. Gen. Eric Schoomaker chartered a task force to help improve trust. “Trust is the foundation of Army Medicine," Schoomaker said in 2010.

The Trust and Enhancement Sustainment Task Force was headquartered at Madigan Army Medical Center.

Now, the Surgeon General’s Office has confirmed that the $3.1 million program was suspended in December after an internal investigation.

The 26-member task force was charged with conducting trust enhancement trainings at 242 Army Medical Treatment Facilities nationwide. In a 2010 Army Medicine newsletter, Army Surgeon General Eric Schoomaker touted the Culture of Trust initiative as “strategic to improving patient care and the Army health care experience.”

An Army public affairs article says the initiative was intended to "create an environment where medical professionals would thrive and patients would receive the best care."

Army investigators found that was far from the case. According to the 721 page investigation obtained through the Freedom of Information Act by KUOW, the program’s director, Claudette Elliott of Auburn, Wash., encouraged employees to participate in what were deemed to be questionable practices including the unauthorized use of Wiccan rituals and energy readings.

The document revealed that Elliott and others in the organization encouraged what investigators called a toxic, cult-like atmosphere. Employees were required to keep personal journals which were turned in and discussed during staff meetings.

Investigators found that during these meetings brutal negative feedback was encouraged among employees that resulted in bullying and a “wolf pack” mentality.

“It felt a lot like a gang of animals who would gang up on the most vulnerable individual,” said a task force member who was interviewed by the investigator.

Elliott, who describes herself as an organizational development consultant, was found to be using a Ph.D. from an unaccredited university. Investigators determined that the use of the title posed a potential risk to the integrity of Army Medicine.

Investigators recommended that Elliott be placed on administrative leave.

Elliott did not return KUOW’s calls for comment, but told a Seattle Times reporter she had not yet seen the report. Elliott added that she had received lots of positive feedback from officers who had been helped by the training and also from trainers in the task force.

She also said that a doctorate was not necessary for her position and that her superiors knew where her diploma came from and encouraged her to use the title of doctor. She declined further comment until she could talk with her attorney.

In a statement, the office of the Army Surgeon General says the task force mission was suspended in December after it was determined that the organization's internal operations, training standards and training methodologies were not aligned with Army Medicine Command's policies.

Here is a copy of the Army's investigation of the Trust and Enhancement Sustainment Task Force.