Arrival of Patients Marks New Beginning at Bethesda

BETHESDA, Md., Aug. 27, 2011 — Offi­cials here at the Nation­al Naval Med­ical Cen­ter declared a new chap­ter in mil­i­tary health care as a pro­ces­sion of ambu­lances deliv­ered the last 18 inpa­tients from Wal­ter Reed Army Med­ical Cen­ter this morn­ing, a final mile­stone as the two flag­ship hos­pi­tals con­sol­i­date.

“This is a his­toric day for mil­i­tary med­i­cine,” said Navy Vice Adm. John Mate­czun, com­man­der of Joint Task Force Nation­al Cap­i­tal Region Med­ical, after the final Wal­ter Reed patient was admit­ted to what is now known as the Wal­ter Reed Nation­al Mil­i­tary Med­ical Cen­ter.

The admis­sion marked an offi­cial end of Wal­ter Reed Army Med­ical Center’s 102-year lega­cy of patient care and “a move to the future of mil­i­tary health,” he not­ed dur­ing a news con­fer­ence at the Nation­al Intre­pid Cen­ter of Excel­lence.

Mate­czun thanked both hos­pi­tal com­man­ders and their staffs for their lead­er­ship through “the largest and most com­plex series of moves and relo­ca­tions that we have ever had with­in the mil­i­tary health sys­tem.”

Adding anoth­er com­pli­ca­tion to the for­mu­la, the last patient trans­fers were accel­er­at­ed by one day to beat out Hur­ri­cane Irene. The last Wal­ter Reed patient was admit­ted at 9:10 a.m. EST, before heavy winds and rains began descend­ing on the Wash­ing­ton area.

Mate­czun called the staffs’ abil­i­ty to pro­vide a near-seam­less tran­si­tion, even in the face of a loom­ing storm, a tes­ta­ment to the resilience of mil­i­tary med­ical pro­fes­sion­als test­ed by a decade of con­flict. “I think we see part of the results of that expe­ri­ence here today,” he said.

“We have always been an agile orga­ni­za­tion as a mil­i­tary health care sys­tem,” agreed Navy Rear Adm. Matthew L. Nathan, com­man­der of the Nation­al Naval Med­ical Cen­ter. “We may have to deploy hun­dreds of our per­son­nel at the drop of a hat to a human­i­tar­i­an assis­tance relief mis­sion or dis­as­ter assis­tance relief mis­sion. So we are pret­ty adept at hav­ing to change plans sud­den­ly and recon­fig­ure our logis­tics.”

Army Col. Norvell “Van” Coots, com­man­der of Wal­ter Reed Army Med­ical Cen­ter, praised an “almost flaw­less tran­si­tion,” not­ing that even the threat of Hur­ri­cane Irene hadn’t put a crimp in well-chore­o­graphed plans.

“I couldn’t have asked for a bet­ter day, even with the hur­ri­cane com­ing, to be able to make this tran­si­tion,” Coots said. “I’m proud of what we have done … in con­junc­tion with the flag­ship of Navy med­i­cine [and] with our coun­ter­parts here, to cre­ate … the future of the mil­i­tary health sys­tem and what hope­ful­ly will be a uni­fied med­ical com­mand.” Nathan said the merg­er opens new oppor­tu­ni­ties and clos­er col­lab­o­ra­tion between the ser­vices as they pro­vide patient care.

“Now we like to say we are one fam­i­ly and one team under one roof,” he said. “And we are charged with, I believe, one of the most impor­tant mis­sions any health cen­ter can [have]: to take care of the wound­ed, the war­riors, the injured, the ill, their fam­i­lies, our nation’s lead­ers and any­body who cross­es our thresh­old for care.”

Those patients will have just one con­cern when they arrive at the new­ly named facil­i­ty for care, he said. “And that is that they have world-class care from a world-class team and from an Amer­i­can peo­ple that sup­port them and are root­ing for them and cheer­ing them on,” he said.

Coots rec­og­nized the end of Wal­ter Reed’s cen­tu­ry-long lega­cy. “I am now the past,” he told reporters. “And my com­mand is rel­e­gat­ed to the his­to­ry books, clos­ing … the final chap­ter in our 102-year his­to­ry of ser­vice to the nation.”

Coots and his staff began prepar­ing patients and their fam­i­lies for today’s move about two weeks ago so they knew what to expect dur­ing the tran­si­tion. The big empha­sis, he said, was on ensur­ing they under­stood “we were not leav­ing them and were not aban­don­ing them.”

In fact, most of the staff that cared for patients at Wal­ter Reed will con­tin­ue to care for them at the Bethes­da hos­pi­tal. “So our under­ly­ing mes­sage to them was, ‘It is not just you that is mov­ing. It is all of us that are mov­ing. We are mov­ing with you,’” Coots said. ‘That made them feel good.”

Last night, the Wal­ter Reed com­mand group made the rounds, pre­sent­ing each of the last 18 patients a gold Wal­ter Reed coin and book on Wal­ter Reed’s his­to­ry “because they are now in the his­to­ry books as the last patients in 102 years,” Coots said.

“And this morn­ing, we walked around and woke them up,” he said. “And we said ‘Good morn­ing,’ and we said, ‘Good­bye.’”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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