‘New Walter Reed’ Effort On Track, Officials Say
By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Dec. 3, 2009 Realignment of military medical facilities in the national capital region ordered by the Base Realignment and Closure Commission is on track to meet the commission’s deadline, senior Defense Department officials said here yesterday.
Walter Reed Army Medical Center here is consolidating with the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., and a new hospital is under construction at Fort Belvoir, Va.
“Recommendations proposed a transition from a legacy service-specific medical infrastructure into a premier, modernized joint operational medicine platform,” said Allen W. Middleton, acting principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for health affairs. “We are making great progress, and I am pleased to report that we are on track to implement the BRAC recommendations by the statutory deadline of Sept. 15, 2011.”
Middleton testified before the House Armed Services Committee’s joint readiness and military personnel subcommittees that new construction at the new Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on the Bethesda campus is more than 60 percent complete. New inpatient and outpatient additions are under construction, and work is beginning for wounded warrior lodging, a dining facility, an administrative complex, a gym and a parking garage complex, Middleton said.
Meanwhile, the Fort Belvoir Community Hospital is more than 50 percent complete, and will provide a total replacement of the existing community hospital, he said.
“We acknowledge that completion of construction activities represents only part of the story,” Middleton told the lawmakers. “Although our primary focus has been completing BRAC recommendations before the deadline, we understand that ‘world-class’ health-care facilities is a long-term commitment to improvement beyond BRAC, and that additional investments are required to achieve that end state.”
The department is willing to support Joint Task Force Capital Medical Region and the military services in identifying additional non-BRAC requirements and ensuring they’re considered in future budget requests, he added.
Another senior Defense Department official noted that in addition to construction being on schedule, the department is on the right track with respect to the new Walter Reed.
“First of all, there was a growing mismatch between the location of eligible beneficiaries, with active duty families concentrating in the southern part of the region, and the location of the major medical facilities to the north,” said Dorothy Robyn, deputy under secretary of defense for installations and environment.
With the estimated cost of $500 million to renovate or $700 million to replace the existing Walter Reed facility, and the six to 15 years that would be needed to accomplish that process, the realignment was the right decision, she said. In addition, she noted, the existing facilities at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda and Walter Reed Army Medical Center had excessive inpatient capacity, and Walter Reed’s infrastructure was deteriorating from heavy use and chronic underinvestment.
The Defense Health Board Subcommittee recently suggested a possible delay in the construction of the new facilities pending further planning of additional improvements outside the scope of BRAC to make the new Walter Reed “world class,” Robyn said.
“We fully agree with the need for additional improvements,” she told the panel, “but we think it is not necessary to halt the BRAC construction process, and we think to do so would jeopardize the benefits that this endeavor promises. Most importantly, without the discipline of the BRAC process, we could not have overcome the inertia and the impediments to change that created the problems I described in the first place.”
The additional improvements being discussed can be addressed separately and subsequently, she added.
Robyn acknowledged the consolidation is a large and complex undertaking, but said it represents a reasonable and balanced approach. The result, she told the panel, will be a superior health-care delivery system.
Navy Vice Adm. (Dr.) John M. Mateczun, commander of Joint Task Force National Capital Region Medical, agreed. “This transformation will allow the [Defense Department] and the military services to capitalize on their collective strengths, maintain high levels of readiness, [and] provide world-class health care to our armed forces and their families,” he said.
The admiral also reassured the lawmakers that patient care remains as his top priority during the consolidation.
“We are committed not just to world-class care, but to the best care that can be provided any time, any place, to the wounded that are coming to us from the theaters in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Mateczun said. “We will suffer no diminishment of care or patient safety during this transition to be able to achieve the goals the department has.”
In addition to all the BRAC-related construction, the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund is building a National Intrepid Center of Excellence on the Bethesda campus. The center will offer diagnosis, treatment planning, research, family-centered education, and long-term follow-up for military personnel with traumatic brain injury and psychological health conditions.
The Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, a not-for-profit organization working to support veterans and their families, will pay for the construction and major equipment costs for the center and will donate it to the government upon completion.