By Douglas Stutz, Naval Hospital Bremerton
When nominations were being accepted for the Outstanding Navy Legal Professional Award for the Pacific Northwest, there was no hesitation from Naval Hospital Bremerton.
The submission was prescient.
Ms. Marquita Hooks, paralegal specialist in the command’s Judge Advocate office was selected as the award recipient for her outstanding achievement, performance of duty, leadership, special accomplishment and significant public or community service.
“I have been in a daze ever since my supervisor, Cmdr. Tracy Clark, informed me that she was going to nominate me for such a prestigious award. This award is the epitome of my chain of command’s recognition and appreciation of my inherent value and my worth as a colleague and a human being. This award improves my self-confidence and means that I am on the right path. That following my heart absolutely works, that doing what I love, what I am passionate about… works. Lastly, this award represents to me that I’m well respected in my craft and the acceptance of a greater responsibility that is my legacy and could potentially set the bar when it comes to investigating allegations of medical malpractice. I wish to display competence, character and compassion in every endeavor that I am challenged to complete,” said Hooks.
“Congratulations to her for being selected as 2020 Outstanding Navy Legal Professional! Not only is she an expert and leader in the legal field, but she is also a highly respected leader on our Bremerton team. I am grateful to have Ms. Hooks as a valued member of my command, and her efforts are richly deserving of the award,” added Capt. Shannon Johnson, NHB/NMRTC Bremerton Commanding Officer.
Much of her work is behind the scenes, but not behind the times. Hooks is responsible for all health care litigation report investigations into incidents arising out of the delivery of care at NHB in which a medical malpractice claim has been filed under the Federal Tort Claims Act.
With the entire legal framework for military medicine altered following the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) which included provisions allowing active duty and next of kin to file medical malpractice claims, Hooks took charge at her command as well as throughout Naval Medical Forces Pacific (NMFP).
“Even though the new NDAA is in its infancy stage, my workload has picked up tremendously,” Hooks said.
The passing of the NDAA brought sweeping changes regarding medical malpractice within the armed forces. Yet there was limited guidance available to direct investigations supporting this new claims mechanism. During this time, NMFP received their initial high-profile claim, and immediately reached out to Hooks, the resident subject matter expert (SME). Relying on her vast experience, along with medical and legal background(s), and can-do spirit, she set about to craft the necessary litigation report to set the precedent for other hospitals and clinics for future reference.
“I was sought out by NMFP to independently investigate three administrative claims under the new NDAA, one of them being a high visibility claim and first administrative claim under the new SFC Richard Stayskal Military Medical Accountability Act of 2019,” related Hooks. “I serve as the SME as it pertained to my knowledge of investigation techniques and sound understanding of medico-legal principles of health law, administrative law, tort law and privacy laws.”
Hooks’ forte is being well-informed and adept to recognize and analyze problems when exercising considerable, unfettered discretion in conducting the investigation.
“I examine all claims to determine the nature, scope and requirements of the investigation. I review thousands of pages of all medical records to determine what information is specifically within the scope of the investigation. I gather all evidentiary material, research and analyze medical literature and treatises, contact specialty leaders to request outside specialty reviews for each claim and interview involved health care providers. In the end, I provide a high quality litigation report investigation, thereby contributing to the missions of both Navy Medicine and Navy Legal Services,” explained Hooks, noting that the time it takes to complete an investigation is really a case-by-case determination.
“Completion can take anywhere from three months to one year, depending on the complexity of the claim. The litigation report investigation is a long and glacial process because such a huge part of my job is spent awaiting the actions of others as the process evolves,” said Hooks.
The Mobile, Ala. native has shown notable flexibility and capability to multi-task. Hooks has also responded to a host of other requirements due to a staffing shortage. A recent busy quarter had her handling 35 preliminary inquiries and command investigations along with her normal workload. During that same time, she managed to complete a voluminous medical malpractice investigation totaling several hundred pages of patient records, expert opinions and investigation. She also monitored another medical malpractice investigation, and provided significant assistance to Naval Health Clinic Oak Harbor for pending litigation.
“My leadership has given me the autonomy to perform my duties as I deem necessary as we prepare to defend the U.S. Navy against allegations of medical malpractice and potentially save the U.S. tax payers millions of dollars each year,” Hooks stated.
When staff members were called upon for a surge deployment on hospital ship USNS Mercy (T-AH 19) to help stop the spread of COVID-19, Hooks was there to ensure all essential legal paperwork such as notarial acts was prepared.
Hooks has over 35 years of combined service to her country, 20 years of active duty in the U.S. Army followed by 15 years – and counting – on federal service. Since beginning employment with NHB in 2008, Hooks is the personification of the command’s legal services. The organizational and administrative requirements notwithstanding, she also dispenses customer legal requests, provides paralegal recommendations and coordinates judicial needs with the staff judge advocate when necessary.