Raquel Bono advises the governor and state agencies on actions to address the health care system’s capacity issues during the pandemic. (Photo courtesy Raquel Bono)

Alumna Answers Call to Serve as Washington’s Hospital Czar During COVID-19

By Mia Gleason

On what seemed to be a normal morning at her home in Alexandria, Virginia, retired Vice Admiral Raquel Bono, a 2015 graduate from the Carson College of Business Executive MBA online program, likely thought the chances of going back to work just six months into retirement were slim—until friends began texting and calling her to say the Washington governor’s office was looking for someone to take charge of hospital surge capacity.

As she considered the increasing strain put on health care facilities during the COVID-19 pandemic, she knew something needed to be done. It was at that point when she received a phone call from Governor Jay Inslee himself.

When Inslee asked if she would serve as Washington state’s COVID-19 hospital “czar” and manage the hospital surge capacity, Bono packed a bag, booked her flight, and started work three days later.

Marshalling talents to address capacity and strain across the health care system

Bono immediately began working with various care facilities and the federal government. She is assessing the needs of the different facilities, ensuring medical staffing needs are met and working to develop standard protocols across facilities. Her focus has expanded from the initial job of coordinating hospital beds and staffing to increasing virus testing and managing protective equipment and ventilator distribution.

In her role for the state, she will advise the governor, his staff, and state agencies on actions needed to address the capacity and strain across the health care system. She will also coordinate with the emergency operations center to initiate statewide efforts.

Prior career and business training prepare Bono for new role

In a recent Oregon Public Broadcasting article, Bono spoke about how her military experience helped her dive into this new role. Her 36-year tenure in the Navy taught her to be agile and find orderly ways to approach problems and create solutions, she says, skills that were also emphasized in her WSU EMBA program.

“Professional development education is a part of every officer’s career,” Bono says. “My Executive MBA education was transformative in terms of giving me the business knowledge and additional leadership skills necessary to transcend the geographic and cultural boundaries I encountered every day in my career.”

In her first few weeks directing Washington state’s COVID-19 response, Bono says she is cautiously optimistic about the situation and feels Washington state hospitals have enough capacity to handle the caseload, based on what modeling and current numbers are showing.

“Dr. Bono’s academic and career record speak to her longstanding dedication to being a leader and a high achiever in all of her pursuits,” says Chip Hunter, Carson College dean. “It is always a privilege when those willing to sacrifice and lead choose the Carson College of Business at Washington State University to pursue their academic and career goals. We could not be more proud of her.”

Bono, the first woman surgeon in the military to hold the rank of vice admiral, obtained her medical degree from Texas Tech University in 1983 and her bachelor’s degree from the University of Texas at Austin in 1979. She served in fleet hospitals in Saudi Arabia during Desert Shield and Desert Storm operations.

Most recently, she was director of the Department of Defense’s Defense Health Agency, which allows the Army, Navy and Air Force medical services to provide medically ready force and medical force in times of war and peace.