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)