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Trying Some Disney Attitude to Help Cure Walter Reed

By Steve Vogel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 25, 2008

Fifty medical workers -- doctors, nurses, therapists and administrators among them -- sat in a room at Walter Reed Army Medical Center gazing at a slide of Donald Duck on a screen.

The oft-cranky Disney cartoon character, wearing his blue sailor jacket and cap, was in a palpable rage. His webbed feet had lifted off the ground, his beak was gaping, and his white-gloved hands were tightly clutching an old-fashioned two-piece telephone.

"We can clearly see he's frustrated," said Kris Lafferty, a trainer for the Disney Institute who was leading workers at the Northwest Washington hospital last week in a four-hour seminar on customer service. "Why do we think he's frustrated?"

A year after a scandal erupted over the long-term treatment of soldiers at the hospital, the Army has turned to Disney for help. "Service, Disney Style" is newly required for all military and other government employees at Walter Reed.

Lafferty and her fellow Disney trainer, Mike Donnelly, handed out little plastic Goofy and Mickey Mouse figurines as they led Wednesday afternoon's discussion with the workers -- some in uniform, some in scrubs, some in civilian clothes.

Various theories were offered for Donald Duck's ire: He was getting the run-around. He could not get a question answered. He was flummoxed by his antique phone.

The lesson: Poor service equals frustration.

At the tables, heads nodded in agreement. It's a familiar story at Walter Reed, where wounded soldiers and their families often confront a numbing bureaucracy.

The Army is paying Disney $800,000 to help revamp attitudes at the hospital.

"It sounds a little odd, but it's true," said Rear Adm. John Mateczun, commander of a joint task force overseeing military medicine in the Washington region.

Col. Patricia D. Horoho, commander of the Walter Reed health-care system, said the goal is to change the culture there. "When you enter the hospital, we want it to be the best experience possible," she said. "Disney fits that.

"One day of training with Disney isn't going to change our hospital," she added. "Disney is one piece of a whole systemwide process we're trying to change."

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