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Transition Spotlight: Maj. Nicole Ward and Capt. Matthew Muncey (Part 1)

  • Published
  • Air Force Surgeon General Public Affairs

The Defense Health Agency assumed management and administration of all U.S.-based military treatment facilities in October 2019, a critical milestone in the ongoing transformation of the Air Force Medical Service and the Military Health System. The AFMS is still transferring management functions to the DHA.

The U.S. Air Force Surgeon General Public Affairs Office spoke with two Airmen deeply involved with the process of standing up DHA’s new capabilities to manage MTFs, ensuring this process is as smooth as possible for personnel and patients. Maj. Nicole “Nikki” Ward and Capt. Matthew “MC” Muncey are both assigned to the AFMS Transition Cell, helping facilitate the numerous ongoing and evolving transformation activities throughout the AFMS and MHS.

In the first part of our two-part conversation, Ward and Muncey share how the AFMS Transition Cell works closely with its DHA, Army and Navy counterparts, and how those relationships are beneficial to the transformation.

What is your roll in the AFMS? How do you support the DHA Transition?

Ward: I’m a program manager in the AFMS Transition Cell team and specifically detailed to the DHA Transition Intermediate Management Office housed in the National Capital Region market office at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. I work with the market office to ensure a standardized and successful execution of the first four markets, which are Coastal Mississippi, Central North Carolina, Jacksonville and the National Capital Region. The tIMO currently effects 58 of our 450 facilities in the MHS, including seven Air Force facilities.

Muncey: I too am a program manager in the Cell, and I wear a few different hats. I work with Air Force functional leads on the Air Force implementation plan and with DHA’s program management office on the plan to stand up DHA headquarters functions here at the Defense Health Headquarters. I’m also part of the team developing the plan that eventually will roll around to the different markets, the small and stand-alone markets and the Defense Health Regions in a couple of years. And those plans aren’t just for Air Force MTFs, they also encompass the Army and Navy.

What is the AFMS Transition Cell?

Muncey: AFMS leadership created the Transition Cell in 2018 to be the primary interface with the DHA and represent the Air Force position on the development of policy and plans in transition of the MTFs to DHA over the next several years. The Cell has representation from the Air Force Medical Readiness Agency, both AFMRA North in Falls Church, Virginia and AFMRA South in San Antonio.

Ward: The Transition Cell is a clearinghouse of information. We are taking on a huge merger effort, and the Transition Cell facilitates communication and collaboration both within the AFMS, and externally to DHA, Army and Navy to make the process as smooth as possible.

What is the value in having the AFMS partner so closely with the DHA?

Ward: We work closely with DHA and the tIMO program management offices to ensure clear communication flows to build support and deliver guidance to Air Force and our service partners’ MTFs. Each service brings its own best practices and approaches to make this process possible. This collaboration furthers the MHS high reliability organization journey, reflecting and enhancing our own Air Force Trusted Care principles.

Muncey: It also means the Air Force lends its expertise to the transition process and DHA’s implementation efforts. The first example to demonstrate the value of our partnership is the AFMS memorandum of agreement with DHA to provide direct support to the MTFs. This agreement allows us to maintain uninterrupted operations supporting Air Force MTFs, freeing up DHA to develop and mature its processes. Air Force’s early and frequent engagement with the DHA yielded positive results for the Air Force and the entire enterprise.

The Air Force leaned forward and really led the way, and the Army and Navy adopted that approach as well, which really had an affect across the entire enterprise. I think we showed the other services the benefits of partnering more deeply with DHA.

People in the field may not understand the relationship between DHA and the AFMS. Can you characterize your experience working with DHA?

Ward: I think the relationship is really strong, and DHA is eager to work with us to learn and ensure a successful transition.

Muncey: Agree. DHA recognizes it doesn’t have all the answers to these questions, and is very open and transparent about that. So, it relies heavily on the services to lend our time and talent toward trying to figure out these problems. That’s really where the Transition Cell offers up a lot of the benefits of this productive partnership. We focus on making the transition as seamless as possible by working with DHA to make sure we meet Congress’s intent, while preserving what we already do well at the MTF.

How is the Transition Cell collaborating with DHA and the tIMO making the transition smoother for MTFs?

Ward: It’s all about consistent communication and collaboration. We facilitate the communication, in both directions, to build support and guidance for Air Force and other service partner MTFs. The inputs we deliver get translated into current and future policies from DHA. As I mentioned before, each service is sharing their best practices, gearing the MHS up to employ the best one. One area where Air Force is being particularly vocal is our Trusted Care culture, which is being incorporated into the foundation of the MHS’s high reliability programs going forward.

Muncey: I think one of the main things we’re doing is partnering with DHA early and often, to find solutions and get to yes. That’s up and outfacing with DHA and other services. Another thing is to organize and prioritize the deluge of information cascading on MTFs. We can triage that, and pull out what’s relevant, important and timely for the MTFs and communicate that down. The intent is for everybody, regardless of where they are on the schedule, to have visibility and awareness of what’s going on so they can plan ahead.

What has surprised you most about the process so far?

Ward: How massive this effort really is and the history associated with it! Since World War II, the Department of Defense conducted numerous studies reviewing the MHS and specifically looking at evolving knowledge, skills and abilities across conflicts. I do believe every stakeholder involved wants to get the best process in place to optimize care for our military members and beneficiaries and ensure a ready medical force.

Muncey: In my career before joining the Air Force, I worked on several large organizational transformation processes in the civilian sector. Coming into the transition, I thought I had a pretty good idea of how it would go, but each day really brings new challenges and surprises I couldn’t have anticipated. I’m continually surprised by the ingenuity we have in the Cell, and what we see from DHA. Really, I’m impressed by the willingness of so many people to volunteer towards finding a way to make the transition successful, and always balancing that with continuing to providing world class care to our patients, and executing our readiness mission.

Editor's Note: This is the first in a two part series.