Bethesda Medical Prepares for Walter Reed Arrivals

BETHESDA, Md., June 27, 2011 — Just two months remain before about 150 inpa­tients at Wal­ter Reed Army Med­ical Cen­ter in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., many of them wound­ed war­riors, make the five-mile move here to the Nation­al Naval Med­ical Cen­ter.

The relo­ca­tion will mark a his­toric moment in both icon­ic insti­tu­tions’ his­to­ries and one of the final mile­stones before they offi­cial­ly merge to become the Wal­ter Reed Nation­al Mil­i­tary Med­ical Center. 

Navy Capt. David A. Biton­ti, chief of staff for inte­gra­tion and tran­si­tion at the Bethes­da facil­i­ty, has been part of a team prepar­ing for that merg­er since Con­gress direct­ed it as part of the 2005 Base Realign­ment and Clo­sure plan. 

The well-chore­o­graphed plan that has been dri­ving the con­sol­i­da­tion is now enter­ing its home stretch. Con­struc­tion projects that dom­i­nat­ed the Bethes­da cam­pus for the past six years are com­plet­ed. Ren­o­va­tion efforts are wrap­ping up, and staff ori­en­ta­tions are under way to ensure the new­ly arriv­ing staff mem­bers are able to pro­vide unin­ter­rupt­ed patient care through the merger. 

The out­pa­tient clin­ics and staffs will be the first to move, with inpa­tients to fol­low in a pro­ces­sion of ambu­lances expect­ed to make its way around Washington’s Cap­i­tal Belt­way in late August, Biton­ti said. 

As the cal­en­dar moves steadi­ly toward the Sept. 15 dead­line for the con­sol­i­da­tion to be com­plet­ed, Bitoni said he’s excit­ed by the pos­si­bil­i­ties that will come from bring­ing the two flag­ship med­ical cen­ters togeth­er as one organization. 

“When you look at the two pow­er­hous­es that Wal­ter Reed Army Med­ical Cen­ter and the Nation­al Naval Med­ical Cen­ter are, and you think about com­bin­ing them togeth­er into a sin­gu­lar facil­i­ty, that speaks to itself about the good things to come for our patients and ben­e­fi­cia­ries,” he said. “I think the lev­el and the qual­i­ty of health care we pro­vide will rival any insti­tu­tion in the coun­try, and maybe the world.” 

The new Wal­ter Reed Nation­al Mil­i­tary Med­ical Cen­ter, which the staff here refers to sim­ply as “Wal­ter Reed Bethes­da,” promis­es to take mil­i­tary med­i­cine to a whole new lev­el as it pro­vides a cen­tral hub for spe­cial­ized care, Biton­ti said. 

About 60 per­cent of the patients cur­rent­ly receiv­ing spe­cial­ized or “ter­tiary” care at Wal­ter Reed Army Med­ical Cen­ter, which is slat­ed to close under BRAC, will be treat­ed at the Wal­ter Reed Bethes­da facil­i­ty. This is expect­ed to include the lion’s share of the most severe­ly wound­ed war­riors, includ­ing all amputees and patients suf­fer­ing trau­mat­ic brain injuries and oth­er psy­cho­log­i­cal problems. 

The remain­ing 40 per­cent of Wal­ter Reed’s cur­rent patients, typ­i­cal­ly those receiv­ing more stan­dard pri­ma­ry care, will be treat­ed at Fort Belvoir, Va. That hos­pi­tal, under­go­ing a mas­sive ren­o­va­tion, will triple its inpa­tient capac­i­ty to more than 120 beds. 

For the Bethes­da cam­pus, the con­sol­i­da­tion will mean a jump from about 600,000 to about 1 mil­lion patient vis­its per year and expan­sion of its inpa­tient capac­i­ty to 345 beds. 

To pre­pare for the influx, plan­ners launched a mas­sive con­struc­tion and ren­o­va­tion effort that has dou­bled the cam­pus’ capac­i­ty to 2.1 mil­lion square feet. “I think when it is all said and done, our med­ical cam­pus here will be just slight­ly under the square footage of Mall of the Amer­i­c­as in Min­neso­ta, Biton­ti said. “We are going to have a phe­nom­e­nal facility.” 

The new 535,000-square-foot Amer­i­ca Build­ing opened its doors in Decem­ber to become the Defense Department’s largest inpa­tient med­ical facil­i­ty. Its base­ment hous­es the Mil­i­tary Advanced Train­ing Cen­ter for Sol­dier Amputees, includ­ing state-of-the-art reha­bil­i­ta­tion equip­ment designed to improve amputees’ move­ment, bal­ance and strength. 

The Arrow­head Build­ing, with about 138,000 square feet, opened in mid-Jan­u­ary as the new home to the emer­gency depart­ment and a 50-bed inten­sive care unit. Oth­er new build­ings dot­ting the Bethes­da cam­pus include a wound­ed war­rior bar­racks with 153 two-per­son suites, a new admin­is­tra­tion build­ing and 70,000-square-foot gym and two park­ing garages. 

Some of the recent addi­tions to the Bethes­da cam­pus that are help­ing set a new stan­dard in wound­ed war­rior care were not specif­i­cal­ly part of BRAC. The Nation­al Intre­pid Cen­ter of Excel­lence for Trau­mat­ic Brain Injury and Psy­cho­log­i­cal Health, which marked its first anniver­sary last week, was a gift of the Intre­pid Fall­en Heroes Fund. Three new Fish­er Hous­es opened ear­ly this year, bring­ing to five the num­ber donat­ed here by the Fish­er House Foun­da­tion for fam­i­lies whose loved ones are under­go­ing med­ical care. 

Through­out the con­struc­tion effort, Biton­ti said painstak­ing care has been tak­en to pre­serve the his­toric lega­cy and feel of the Bethes­da hos­pi­tal. Then-Pres­i­dent Franklin D. Roo­sevelt, inspired by a spring-fed pond on the grounds that remind­ed him of the bib­li­cal “Pool of Bethes­da,” per­son­al­ly select­ed the site in 1938, and laid the cor­ner­stone of the hos­pi­tal tow­er on Armistice Day, Nov. 11, 1940. The hos­pi­tal tow­er is list­ed on the Nation­al Reg­is­ter of His­toric Places. 

With new con­struc­tion now com­plet­ed, the focus now is on wrap­ping up about a half-mil­lion square feet in ren­o­va­tions across the cam­pus to pre­pare for the staff and patient moves in August, Biton­ti said. 

For many staffers who have moved back and forth between the two facil­i­ties, he said the con­sol­i­da­tion at the Wal­ter Reed Nation­al Mil­i­tary Med­ical Cen­ter will for­mal­ize a long-stand­ing tra­di­tion of shar­ing expe­ri­ence and exper­tise in pro­vid­ing the high­est lev­el of patient care possible. 

Chiefs have been appoint­ed for each depart­ment and clin­ic to bring the best process­es from each facil­i­ty to their respec­tive areas through the merger. 

“It’s very excit­ing to have the oppor­tu­ni­ty to par­tic­i­pate in what is occur­ring here and the impact it is going to have for our patients and for mil­i­tary med­i­cine,” Biton­ti said. 

The con­sol­i­da­tion, along with the expan­sion of the Fort Belvoir hos­pi­tal, will bring the best in patient care to both facil­i­ties, he said. “We are going to have two phe­nom­e­nal facil­i­ties — both the facil­i­ty in the north at the Bethes­da cam­pus and the facil­i­ty in the south at the Fort Belvoir cam­pus,” he said. “I just think this is a phe­nom­e­nal oppor­tu­ni­ty for every­one. And the good thing about that is, it is going to be our patients who benefit.” 

But Biton­ti also acknowl­edged some bit­ter­sweet days ahead as the mil­i­tary med­ical com­mu­ni­ty cas­es the col­ors of Wal­ter Reed Army Med­ical Cen­ter in late July and offi­cial­ly renames the Nation­al Naval Med­ical Cen­ter in late September. 

“I think the thing that has helped us the most as the process has gone on is that we have focused on one thing,” he said. “No mat­ter who you are, what uni­form you wear or what place you come from, we all ral­ly around the fact that we all care about deliv­er­ing the absolute best care for the patients. And that is real­ly what this is about.” 

“Nation­al Naval Med­ical Cen­ter will go into the his­to­ry books, just like Wal­ter Reed Army Med­ical Cen­ter will go into the his­to­ry books as we come togeth­er to form Wal­ter Reed Bethes­da,” Biton­ti said. “This will be two pow­er­hous­es com­ing togeth­er to form a new pow­er­house that is quan­tifi­ably bet­ter than either of them separately.” 

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

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