Walter Reed to Continue Legacy at New Location, General Says
By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May. 2, 2006 When the premier medical centers from the Army and Navy merge into one joint facility in Bethesda, Md., in 2011, the rich heritage and world-class treatment reputation of Walter Reed Army Medical Center will continue under the same name at a different location, the hospital's commander said here April 30.
The Base Realignment and Closure Commission announced the Defense Department initiative to close Walter Reed on May 13, 2005. The famed military medical facility, which is a monument to a long tradition of patient care, medical research and educational development, will continue its legacy under the name of the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. The premier, modernized joint healthcare operation will be jointly staffed with personnel from the Army, Navy and Air Force.
"BRAC 2005 provides us the opportunity to better meet the health care needs of the 450,000 eligible beneficiaries in the national capital area and to achieve the long sought goal of integrating healthcare delivery in this multi-service market," Army Maj. Gen. Kenneth L. Farmer Jr. said during the Walter Reed Society's annual meeting at the Mologne House Hotel, on the Walter Reed campus.
The 560 member-strong society helps families of wounded servicemembers with expenses to stay in the area while their loved ones recover in this high-cost area.
Changes in health care delivery for the 450,000 military members, retirees and their families in the Washington area include:
- Walter Reed's main campus will close as a military installation;
- A large new community hospital will be built at Fort Belvoir, Va.; and
- Malcolm Grow Medical Center, at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., will become an ambulatory care center.
Farmer said there are five main reasons why Walter Reed was selected for closure, even though it's larger than the National Naval Medical Center.
- Walter Reed's main hospital building, while only 30 years old by the calendar, is functionally much older. If the hospital remained open, it would face a renewal program that would take 12 to 15 years and hundreds of millions of dollars;
- There's more buildable space at Bethesda than at land-locked Walter Reed;
- Bethesda is right across the street from a Metro mass-transit stop;
- The National Naval Medical Center is right across the street from the National Institutes of Health, with the potential for collaboration in research and in specialty care; and
- On the same campus is the nation's only military medical school, the Uniformed Services University of the Heath Sciences.
"We envision one unified national capital area military health care system," he said. "Jointly staffed inpatient campuses at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center at Bethesda (north) and Fort Belvoir (south) will provide high quality, efficient and convenient care for our beneficiaries."
He said the new Walter Reed will serve as a world-class academic medical center focused on highest quality care, graduate medical education, and clinical research, while serving as a worldwide military referral center.
"The Fort Belvoir community hospital will be the major satellite teaching hospital," Farmer said. "Both campuses will be sized to provide health care at the closest facility to the beneficiary whenever clinically appropriate."
Farmer said officials planning the changes envision a 345-bed medical center at Bethesda and a 120-bed community hospital at Belvoir.
Vowing to communicate changes in healthcare delivery to patients in a timely fashion, Farmer emphasized that it will take several years to build new facilities and renovate others. He said Walter Reed can't be closed until facilities at Bethesda and Belvoir are completed. "We'll be hard pressed to get that done by the statutory compliance date of Sept. 15, 2011," the general noted. "But that doesn't mean that nothing will change until then."
Farmer said an evolutionary approach is being used to integrate the facilities at Bethesda and Belvoir. "We'll functionally integrate long before we physically collocate," he noted. "I expect that we will have some departments or services with one department chief overseeing both locations by this summer."
The general stressed that Walter Reed's worldwide casualty-care mission will continue at the new location.
In years past, he said, the Mologne House Hotel on the Walter Reed campus was filled with retirees coming to Washington for medical care and myriad other reasons. Today, the hotel and the nearby Fisher Houses are filled with combat casualties who no longer need to be on the wards and with family members of hospitalized servicemembers.
"We'll have to replace that function in some way," the general noted. "We'll assess a number of alternatives to include non-appropriated fund activities like the Army Lodging Program, the Navy Lodge and possibly public-private alternatives. Next year, the Navy will do a major renovation on the bachelor enlisted quarters right across from the hospital entrance to prepare it to house our wounded warriors."
Farmer said integrating the functions of Walter Reed and Bethesda "amounts to a corporate merger of two corporations with very different organizational structures and very different cultures."
"But it is doable," he said. "And we are doing it."