Ahead of the Curve: UNC Hospitals honors current and former military staff on Veterans Day

On Tuesday, more than 120 people gathered in the lobby of N.C. Memorial Hospital for UNC Hospitals’ annual Veterans Day observance. Attendees – clad in a mix of military uniforms, white coats and business suits – came together to recognize employees and residents who have served, or are currently serving, in the armed forces.

(From L-R) President of UNC Hospitals Gary Park; Dean William L. Roper, CEO of UNC Health Care System; Timothy Weiner, MD; Bruce Cairns, MD; Major Amy Alger, MD and Mark Hall of Respiratory Therapy at UNC Hospitals stand with the 2014 Secretary of Defense
Richard Jadick, DO, Commander (ret) U.S. Navy Reserves

By Jamie Williams - jamie.williams@unchealth.unc.edu

This year’s event took on added meaning as UNC Health Care celebrated its recent distinction as the 2014 Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award winner. The Employer Support Freedom Award is the Department of Defense’s highest recognition given to employers for exceptional support of Guard and Reserve employees.

The event’s keynote speaker was Richard Jadick, DO, Commander (ret) U.S. Navy Reserves. Jadick, the most highly decorated physician in the Iraq war, earned a Bronze Star for his valor during the Battle of Fallujah. He currently works in private practice as a urologist in Georgia.

His remarks centered on a motto he first heard from his gunnery sergeant while traveling to Iraq, “You be there for us, and we’ll be there for you.”

Jadick said UNC Health Care’s work to offer opportunities for veterans and service members embodies that attitude.

“UNC is way ahead of the curve on this, a model for what we want everyone else to be,” Jadick said. “What I see here is a commitment to getting veterans acclimated. A person who hasn’t been there will never understand what that veteran went through, but being there to support them, making them a part of a great institution and just making sure they know there are people who care -- that’s so important.”

“UNC is way ahead of the curve on this, a model for what we want everyone else to be,” Jadick said. “What I see here is a commitment to getting veterans acclimated. A person who hasn’t been there will never understand what that veteran went through, but being there to support them, making them a part of a great institution and just making sure they know there are people who care. That’s so important.”

Amy Alger, MD, an assistant professor of trauma and critical care surgery at the UNC School of Medicine and a major with the U.S. Army Reserves, also spoke at the event. She deployed to Afghanistan in 2013. While she was away, she said, her colleagues did everything from sending care packages to mowing her lawn. There was even a surprise waiting when she returned home.

“They filled my refrigerator with food the day before I got home,” Alger said, laughing. “I mean, come on, how awesome is that?”

Timothy Weiner, MD, a professor of pediatric surgery at the UNC School of Medicine and commander in the U.S. Navy Reserves ,told the crowd that he felt compelled to serve three years ago at age 50. Prior to that he had first-hand knowledge of the care and support UNC provides to military members and their families.

“This is a military friendly state, and that extends down to the state’s University," he said. "UNC is a tremendous place for military families to come and get connected to the care that they need.”

After enlisting, he said the support he and his wife received was “overwhelming.”

Weiner and Tom Maltais, manager, community relations at UNC Health Care and former journalist with Armed Forces Radio and Television Services, also received plaques honoring their extraordinary efforts to help UNC Health Care earn the Freedom Award recognition.

Gary Park, President of UNC Hospitals, said he is proud of UNC’s leadership role in supporting veterans, calling it simply “the right thing to do.” He added that the hundreds of veterans and military personnel employed by UNC Hospitals succeed because of their special characteristics.

“They are a different breed," he said. "They are strong, they know what they want and they have discipline. We love having them.”

Congressman David Price (D-NC) also delivered remarks at the event, praising UNC Hospitals for not just promising to support veterans, but actually following through and figuring out tangible ways to provide opportunities. Multiple speakers highlighted the master’s degree physician assistant program currently being developed so that veteran medics can continue their medical careers after leaving the military.

After the event, Jadick urged UNC Hospitals to continue raising the standard for veteran care and support.

“UNC is what everyone else wants to be. But, don’t sit on your laurels; take it to the next level. Make everyone chase you.” 

Photos by Max Englund, UNC Health Care.