Story by Douglas Stutz , Naval Hospital Bremerton
Capt. David K. Weiss handed over responsibilities before officially retiring as commanding officer of Naval Hospital Bremerton (NHB) to Capt. Jeffrey W. Bitterman on August 4, 2017.
“It is a distinct honor and privilege for me to be here today as we gather to mark this transfer of authority, responsibility and accountability from one accomplished naval officer to another,” said Rear Adm. Paul Pearigen, commander, Navy Medicine West and chief of the Navy Medical Corps, as guest speaker and presiding officer, noting that he has known Weiss and Bitterman since their formative years going through the emergency medicine residency program.
“One of the most rewarding milestones and positions to hold in the Navy or any branch of the service is that of commanding officer. At times it can be difficult, but it is the opportunity to lead, to mold and most importantly, to influence at a higher level that distinguishes this role. It takes a unique individual. One with credibility, confidence, passion, and fortitude – with a touch of humility – to take charge of a command, whether it is a warship, squadron, battalion, research center or hospital. Capt. Weiss has distinguished himself and served the nation in multiple operational assignments, overseas treatment facility tours and advancing clinical executive positions,” remarked Pearigen.
During his two-year tenure as NHB’s commanding officer, Weiss ensured readiness was a top priority, preparing staff members for deployment in support of the Global War on Terrorism, and various operational platforms. He led staff members in fostering a strong working affiliation with the Puget Sound Military Health System, a unique partnership with Madigan Army Medical Center and Naval Hospital Oak Harbor that has worked to take care of beneficiaries and provide as much care within the military care system as possible.
Weiss directed NHB preparation to be an Initial Operating Capability site for the new Department of Defense Electronic Health Record, Military Health System (MHS) GENESIS. In conjunction with MHS GENESIS, NHB and Naval Hospital Oak Harbor Information Management teams were jointly recognized with the 2015 Captain Joan Dooling Award for Information Professional Excellence for their significant accomplishments, innovation and technological leadership.
Along with a successful Joint Commission reaccreditation survey and Medical Inspector General inspection in 2016, NHB and Branch Health Clinic (BHC) Bangor, BHC Everett and BHC Puget Sound Naval Shipyard received successive, favorable results in medical supply managerial and purchasing practices and the Radiation Health Program.
Other notable achievements include NHB receiving the 2016 Secretary of the Navy’s Energy and Water Management Award program ‘Gold Level’ award, as well as the Chief of Naval Operations Environmental Award for Fiscal Year 2016. NHB was also recognized with the eighth consecutive Surgeon General’s ‘Gold’ Health Promotion and Wellness Award.
Weiss also led establishment of the medical home port for the submarine fleet, coordinating embedded mental health assets with Submarine Group Nine, and created the first ever resiliency (Tang Toughness) Training program designed specifically for submarine forces to address unplanned losses, decreasing them by 48 percent.
“When I first arrived to NHB, I did not know what to expect. I wondered, what are they doing right? What’s the secret? How did NHB get from good to great? Two years ago, I stated NHB will continue to do what we have done since the first patient crossed its threshold over 121 years ago. We will center ourselves on and for the patient and their family and provide world-class medical care; we will take care of those Sailors, Soldiers, Airmen and Marines who rely and trust us. We will ensure that the active duty force is medically ready to deploy and be prepared to standup and step forward when called. We exceeded all expectations,” stated Weiss, readily acknowledging his hospital team of active duty, civilian, contractor, and American Red Cross volunteers as the driving force for a long list of accomplishments during his time as commanding officer.
“We get more than our fair share of respect and recognition here because of the quality of our people. It has been the greatest honor of my life thus far to have been counted among your numbers for the past 24 months,” Weiss said.
Capt. Bitterman reports to Naval Hospital Bremerton after serving as executive officer, Naval Hospital Twenty-Nine Palms, California.
“I want to build on the tremendous success forged during Capt. Weiss’ command. We will focus on job one, which is readiness of the fleet and readiness of the medical force, and providing highly reliable and safe healthcare to our nation’s heroes – the Sailors, their families, and the retirees that we are privileged to serve. We will conduct ourselves with supreme competence, character, and compassion in all that we do,” stated Bitterman.
The native of Buffalo, New York received his commission in 1991 and subsequently earned his MD from the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences F. Edward Hebert School of Medicine in 1995. While attending medical school, he completed the U.S. Army Airborne and Air Assault Schools. He was designated an Expert Parachutist during additional training with the Navy Special Warfare detachment and in 1997, he was designated a naval flight surgeon at Naval Air Station Pensacola,
He completed his residency training at Naval Medical Center San Diego and obtained board certification in Emergency Medicine. In 2005, he was assigned to Naval Hospital Guam where he served as Emergency Medicine Department head and then as director of Medical Services.
His operational tours include assignments with Marine Attack Squadron 311 and 3rd Marine Air Wing, where he deployed in support of Operation Southern Watch and Operation Enduring Freedom. He was also assigned to the 376th Air Expeditionary Wing and was instrumental in establishing an expeditionary air field at Ganci Air Base, Kyrgyzstan, and created the initial joint multinational theater medical evacuation plan.
In 2008, he was assigned as officer in charge, Fleet Surgical Team Three and served as Commander, Amphibious Task Force surgeon for Commander Amphibious Squadron One. He was selected to be the medical contingent commander for Pacific Partnership 2009, where he integrated personnel from eight partner nations and seven non-governmental organizations to improve disaster response capacity in five host nations and enhance regional stability in Oceania.
In 2010, Bitterman was assigned to Naval Hospital Camp Pendleton, where he served as both the director of Medical Services and Wounded Warrior medical director. He stood up the Concussion Clinic for Traumatic Brain Injury care and established the Warrior Recovery Center to provide multidisciplinary Wounded Warrior rehabilitation services.
In 2011, he deployed as to the United Kingdom Role 3 Combat Hospital in Camp Bastion and then to the NATO Role 3 Multinational Medical Unit in Kandahar, Afghanistan.
At the completion of the change of command ceremony, Weiss officially retired after 27 years of active duty in Navy Medicine. He recalled three distinctive events that marked his career he referred to as ‘a Navy doctor.’
The first happened recently. He was a ferry ride back from a Seattle Sounders game where he struck up a conversation comparing career paths with another passenger. Yet the fellow commuter had no understanding or comprehension of what it meant to be a Navy doctor. Little did he realize that as a medical corps officer, Weiss had been a practicing physician across the globe, providing direct patient-care not just to active duty personnel, but also civilians in need in many places that most people would have difficulty locating on a map.
In his chosen role as ‘a Navy doctor,’ Weiss was the command surgeon for United States Africa Command – the first from Navy Medicine to hold that position – and personally presented the Department of Defense plan to help fight the deadly Ebola outbreak in Africa at the WHO in Geneva, Switzerland before arriving in-country Liberia to assist with the overall coordination of the plan.
He was also ‘a Navy doctor,’ as part of the initial surgical team to enter Iraq in 2003. Their surgical tent hospital set up near An Nasiriyah – tore up after one of the worst sand storms in recent history of the area – had received 80 patients in less than a day, mostly Marine casualties. They also treated an Iraqi family all suffering from gunshot wounds.
“We all gave them the best care we could give in a tent hospital in the middle of the desert. I have worked in a civilian trauma center I have never been prouder to be part of a team that applied the same level of care and compassion to civilians,” Weiss shared.
During his tenure as the commanding officer of the military treatment facility aboard the hospital ship USNS Comfort, Weiss explained how being ‘a Navy doctor’ was instrumental in saving the life of a premature infant. Lt. Cmdr. John Pedraza, a neonatologist, was visiting an overcrowded neonatal intensive care unit in one of the nine countries Comfort was providing humanitarian care. He saw the 34-week old infant breathing rapidly with fingers beginning to turn gray. The saddened staff had already told the family the child was not expected to live. Pedraza then noticed a donated neonatal mechanical ventilator that no one knew how to use. He immediately contacted the biomedical repair team on the Comfort that quickly arrived on scene and activated the machine. Within minutes, the infant was placed on the ventilator, stabilized and lived. Pedraza then shared with the staff how to operate the ventilator, which turned out to be the first they had ever had in their country.
During a typical day at Naval Hospital Bremerton and BHC Bangor, BHC Everett and BHC Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, there are approximately 868 medical outpatient visits, 1,417 outpatient prescriptions processed, 53 Urgent Care Clinic visits, and two babies delivered.
The staff consists of over 1,400 dedicated military, civilian, contract and American Red Cross volunteer personnel, including active duty medical staff forward deployed in support of various overseas commitments such as Operation Freedom’s Sentinel in Afghanistan and Operation Pacific Partnership 2017.