For the past two years, Navy Capt. Daniel J. Zinder watched over those who take care of service members and their families aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune as the commanding officer of Naval Hospital Camp Lejeune.
In a ceremony aboard the base June 8, Zinder passed the mantle on to Navy Capt. David Lane and prepared for his new post in Role 3 Multinational Medical Unit aboard Kandahar Air Field, Afghanistan.
Before his departure, he took the time to share some memories with the military community.
Q. What led you to Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune?
A. Navy medicine tries to place people in locations they think the person will fit best. I did quite a bit of time in the Marine Corps already as a surgeon. I spent a year in Iraq with 1st Marine Expeditionary Force in 2006, and then I was a battalion surgeon at Naval Hospital Camp Pendleton. I spoke the language, as they say. So the senior leaders in Navy medicine thought I would fit in here.
Q. How do you feel about working with Marines?
A. I love working with Marines. You always know where they stand. The nice thing about Marines is they approach everything as a full-frontal assault. You know what’s coming. They don’t play games, and they’re very direct so it’s very easy to see what problems need to be addressed. I love it.
Q. What were you expecting when you first came here?
A. I wasn’t sure. I got several phone calls from many people who were in command here when I received my orders saying that they were the best orders in the Navy. I was surprised by what I found here. I thought people were telling me this because of the mission: taking care of Marines and all of the good work going on in the hospital. Those are great things worth coming here in themselves, but they were talking about something else.
The thing about Lejeune is the community. The retiree community here, as well as Onslow County, is just wonderful. The people are so welcoming and helpful, and good to the military. It’s something I’ve never experienced before. I think our distance from big-city life makes (Onslow County) a unique place. It was a very pleasant surprise. It made me understand why people called to tell me how good it was here.
Q. What was it like working with the communities and retirees?
A. Well, the involvement from different organizations was great. A great example is the Military Affairs Committee with the Chamber of Commerce. They are a wonderful group of people who pay money to join an organization that does nothing except good things for the military. They also honor a military member of the month with a large dinner. They meet to discuss what they can do to help the military. I think it’s incredible. These are people running businesses in town, many of whom have no other affiliation with the military.
One of my frustrations being here is I can’t take care of all the retirees in the hospital who I’d love to take care of. We’re staffed for our wartime mission and our first priority is active-duty service members. If there are available appointments we care for family members and retirees. Because active duty is our priority we are unfortunately unable to care for the family members and retiree community at the hospital to the same extent they care for us.
They are great advocates for us even when we can’t fully reciprocate. We do what we can. We volunteer to serve at retiree breakfasts, and we hold a retiree health fair to assist in any way we are able to. We’re here because of them. The only reason we’re able to sit here is because they were in our place once before. We’re standing on their shoulders, and we can never forget it.
Q. What do you think you will miss the most?
A. I’m going to miss the staff, the people I get to work with everyday who are so incredible and talented. The best thing I learned here in command is to stay out of the way. Our staff is extremely talented and incredibly capable of getting things done correctly. They are always looking for the best way to take care of our patients.
Q. What changed during your time here?
A. Physically there’s been a lot of construction; we’re adding a big wing and a new emergency room. Dr. Lane will be able to cut the ribbon in about six months, which is a great honor. The Marine Corps went through some growth and is now figuring out how to decrease in size. The political climate through the wars changed a bit, but those are all details.
The most important thing not changed is our mission. We strive to provide the highest quality and safest care possible to the people who we are taking care of. It’s something we’ve always focused on.
For instance, I’ve said we’re never going to let the construction get in the way of our quality and safety. We’re always looking for ways to raise the margin of safety for our patients. Despite all the things changing around us, whether it is politics or finances, our main job is to make sure our quality and safety don’t change.
I look at the changes as peripheral. I figure out what’s going on, and I make sure we maintain normalcy while it’s happening, because changes aren’t that big of a deal. I look at how it’s going to effect us, and how I can ward off from it impacting care.
Q. What message do you want to leave behind for hospital patients?
A. Any time there is a transition in senior leadership, people worry about what’s going to happen. Because of the quality of the staff and caliber of Dr. Lane’s capabilities, there’s nothing to worry about. The care we provide will be the same high quality and personalized care.
Q. What’s your favorite memory here?
A. There have been so many different things, and they are all different and unique. There’s no stand out because I’ve done so many cool things here. I got to work with this wonderful staff. I’ve done different things around the base. I was honored as guest speaker at the Chaplain Corps Ball. Many things come to mind when I think about it. I’m just a poor country doctor from Phoenix, and here I am doing this job.
Q. You were here through many natural disasters the last few years, can you share your experiences?
A. The tornado didn’t affect us directly on a large scale medically speaking, so we’re really lucky. There was the baby who was injured, but he’s doing well.
We were lucky with the hurricane too. The wind speeds decreased long before it got to us. One of the coolest things we did was have pregnant mothers, staff members and their families stay at the hospital, including pets. We had a hallway full of pets in a separate area so infection control was in check. The veterinarian came to monitor the animal and their families visited them during their stay.
It only lasted two days. It turned out to be a big deal, but I didn’t realize it at the time. The outcry of joy from people was beyond my imagination. It just seemed like the right thing to do, so we did it. The hurricane was a big deal for us because we were all hunkered down, sleeping here and taking care of people. We wondered how we would get through it at the time.
Looking back on it, it was easy. It’s all of the unknowns as you’re going forward that are concerning, how to ward things off and prepare for it were big concerns.
Q. Where did the idea for allowing pets in the hospital during the hurricane originate?
A. A staff member asked what they would do with their pets if they were bringing their families. We said to bring them in. Pets are a part of their families. We weren’t going to say leave your dog in a house that might get ruined. We figured it out, had some help, ran it by the veterinarian and got it done.
Q. Is there a message you’d like to share with hospital employees?
A. Continue with all of your great work. I’m really proud of you. This community will always be in good hands as long the staff keeps the same level of dedication and level of excellence they maintain now.
Q. Do you have any parting words?
A. It was a great pleasure. I hope I can come back here some day.
Zinder is looking forward to rewarding, meaningful experiences and an exciting future in Afghanistan. He wants NHCL to continue to grow and thrive after his departure, and sees a great future here. He trusts the hospital is in good hands with Lane.
Lane is coming from Marine Corps Forces Pacific where he worked as a force surgeon.
“I can’t think of a place I’d rather be than here,” said Lane. “I like being a part of naval medicine and what the Navy does for the Marine Corps, so this is really exciting.”