Originally created 03/10/99

Hospital commander aims for retirement



The commanding general of Dwight D. Eisenhower Army Medical Center hopes to retire this summer after 32 years of active duty in the military.

Brig. Gen. Robert F. Griffin said Tuesday he filed a formal request with the Pentagon about a month ago that he'd like to retire once his assignment at Eisenhower is complete. Usually officers are reassigned about every two years and in June, he will have been the hospital's chief for two years. Army officials have yet to approve his retirement.

"Now is a good time," he said during an interview at his office Tuesday. "I've been on active duty for 32 years, I'm a Vietnam veteran, I served in Desert Shield and Desert Storm. It's time for me to settle down.

"My fundamental interest has been to focus on the basic quality of medical care. I am convinced we have delivered quality care."

Brig. Gen. Griffin, a general surgeon, assumed command of the Fort Gordon hospital in June 1997, replacing Brig. Gen Stephen Xenakis, who was relieved of his duties amid allegations of misconduct.

Brig. Gen. Griffin also became the leader for the Army's southeast Regional Medical Command, overseeing six hospitals in the southeast and Puerto Rico.

Since his assignment began, Eisenhower has opened an ambulatory care center, a health and wellness center and has begun renovations of the orthopedic and urology departments, he said.

If his retirement request is granted, he'll accept a position with Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Vermont as the medical director of the Medicaid program, Blue First.

For several years, Eisenhower has been dogged by talk of closure, but the general said he believes that will never happen.

"We are a more cost-effective organization and our volume is beginning to increase," he said.

Eisenhower also is strong because it is the headquarters for Army medicine in the Southeast, which includes seven other hospitals and two health clinics. The hospital also is the region's lead agent for implementation of Tricare, the military's managed health care system.

The general was commissioned in June 1967 -- the same month his father retired from the service, also after 32 years of active duty. He graduated from Emory University School of Medicine in 1974.

Before being transferred to Fort Gordon, he was the deputy commander for health care operations at the U.S. Army Medical Command at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio. Before moving to San Antonio, the general was the command surgeon for the Army's Forces Command at Fort McPherson near Atlanta.

Eisenhower has been his third assignment as a military hospital commander. He also commanded a 65-bed hospital at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y., and a 225-bed community hospital in Europe.

A minimum of 60 days will elapse before the general will receive notification from Washington that his request has been approved or denied. It's more likely, however that he won't get the news for three to six months.

"I have submitted my request to the chief of staff, but he is not obligated to accept it," he said. "I have asked to retire but I will retire at a time when it is convenient to the government."

Brig. Gen. Griffin and his wife, Ann, have three children. Their oldest daughter, a ninth-grader, is now enrolled in her 10th school. The general said he wants his daughter to finish high school at one school and he wants to "plant an asparagus bed" which will take at least three years.

"If all goes well, we'll be moving to Vermont this summer," he said.

Meghan Gourley can be reached at (706) 823-3227 or mgourley@augustachronicle.com.