BRAC Goals Reached, New Walter Reed Looks to Future

WASHINGTON — The day before the con­gres­sion­al­ly man­dat­ed dead­line to put all Base Realign­ment and Clo­sure Com­mis­sion rec­om­men­da­tions into effect, the com­man­der who over­saw the clos­ing of Wal­ter Reed Army Med­ical Cen­ter isn’t kick­ing back with a sigh of relief.

For Navy Vice Adm. (Dr.) John M. Mate­czun, com­man­der of Joint Task Force Nation­al Cap­i­tal Region Med­ical, some of the tough­est chal­lenges are just begin­ning.

Mate­czun was respon­si­ble for one of the most sweep­ing trans­for­ma­tions in mil­i­tary med­i­cine with the clo­sure of the icon­ic Wal­ter Reed hos­pi­tal.

With all its patients, staff and health care ser­vices moved to what is now known as the Wal­ter Reed Nation­al Mil­i­tary Med­ical Cen­ter in Bethes­da, Md., and the new Fort Belvoir Com­mu­ni­ty Hos­pi­tal in Vir­ginia, he now has set his sights on his next, post-BRAC goal.

“This is a new begin­ning,” he said. “We now have the oppor­tu­ni­ty here in the nation­al cap­i­tal region to form the first tru­ly inte­grat­ed region­al deliv­ery sys­tem with­in the mil­i­tary health sys­tem.”

Get­ting to this point was no small feat. Since BRAC became law in 2005, 2.6 mil­lion square feet of new con­struc­tion and 472,000 square feet of ren­o­va­tions have tak­en place on the Bethes­da cam­pus and Fort Belvoir to accom­mo­date the new, expand­ed mis­sions there.

Mean­while, the civil­ian work­forces were con­sol­i­dat­ed into one Defense Depart­ment work­force. Mate­czun said the merg­er will ben­e­fit work­ers by open­ing up more career oppor­tu­ni­ties and enabling them to trans­fer more smooth­ly between the two facil­i­ties.

The merg­er also will also be a plus for the hos­pi­tals, he said, help­ing them bet­ter attract and retain expe­ri­enced work­ers with high­ly sought-after skills.

With the facil­i­ties and work­force in place, both the Wal­ter Reed Nation­al Mil­i­tary Med­ical Cen­ter and Fort Belvoir Com­mu­ni­ty Hos­pi­tal are pro­vid­ing care for the for­mer Wal­ter Reed patients.

A con­voy of ambu­lances trans­ferred the last inpa­tients at that cen­ter to Bethes­da Aug. 27, one day ahead of sched­ule to beat the approach­ing Hur­ri­cane Irene.

The final emer­gency-room patient at Fort Belvoir’s DeWitt Army Com­mu­ni­ty Cen­ter was trans­ferred to the new Fort Belvoir Com­mu­ni­ty Hos­pi­tal on Aug. 31. That same day, the staff per­formed its first oper­a­tion and also deliv­ered its first baby in the new facil­i­ty, Mate­czun said.

The last pieces of med­ical equip­ment are being moved from the old Wal­ter Reed, much of it being redis­trib­uted to the Bethes­da or Belvoir facil­i­ties. Back in 2008, BRAC plan­ners esti­mat­ed that $54 mil­lion in equip­ment would be trans­ferred, but the actu­al fig­ure exceeds $100 mil­lion, Mate­czun report­ed.

With both facil­i­ties now run­ning at full-throt­tle, he said now is the time to gen­er­ate some of the effi­cien­cies BRAC was designed to pro­vide.

Many of those sav­ings will come through con­sol­i­dat­ed sup­port ser­vices such as human resources and facil­i­ties oper­a­tions.

While designed to improve effi­cien­cy and save mon­ey, Mate­czun said the con­sol­i­da­tion also will pro­mote patient care.

The nature of the con­sol­i­da­tions, with high­ly spe­cial­ized care deliv­ered at Bethes­da, ensures med­ical staffs pro­vid­ing that care have suf­fi­cient patient loads to remain at the top of their game, he said.

In addi­tion, three elec­tron­ic med­ical net­works in use at facil­i­ties with­in the Wash­ing­ton, D.C., area are being com­bined into one joint med­ical net­work. This, Mate­czun said, will enable providers at var­i­ous clin­ics and hos­pi­tals to more eas­i­ly access and share patient records.

Oth­er ini­tia­tives will make it more con­ve­nient for patients to get care. For exam­ple, a con­sol­i­dat­ed appoint­ment and refer­ral cen­ter being stood up will pro­vide a user-friend­ly, stan­dard­ized way for patients to sched­ule appoint­ments at either facil­i­ty.

A major post-BRAC empha­sis is on tak­ing these efforts to the next lev­el to reach a “world-class stan­dard” in med­ical care, Mate­czun said.

That stan­dard — man­dat­ed by Con­gress in the wake of the 2007 Wal­ter Reed scan­dal as BRAC ini­tia­tives already were under way — rais­es the bar in patient care.

Among its rec­om­men­da­tions were the new wound­ed war­rior lodg­ing on the Bethes­da cam­pus and pri­vate hos­pi­tal rooms that weren’t part of the orig­i­nal BRAC plan.

Sub­se­quent con­gres­sion­al rec­om­men­da­tions direct that parts of Wal­ter Reed Nation­al Mil­i­tary Med­ical Cen­ter not impact­ed by BRAC also be raised to this world-class stan­dard.

That, Mate­czun explained, involves upgrad­ing addi­tion­al build­ings on the Bethes­da cam­pus — all built or last ren­o­vat­ed before 1975.

As part of that new stan­dard, the last of exist­ing two-patient rooms are being con­vert­ed into pri­vate rooms.

In addi­tion, indi­vid­ual patient rooms at both Bethes­da and Fort Belvoir will soon be turned into “smart suites.” These rooms will be equipped with tech­nol­o­gy that enables care­givers to mon­i­tor patients’ vital signs elec­tron­i­cal­ly and even to rec­og­nize when a patient has got­ten out of bed.

This tech­nol­o­gy ben­e­fits patients, too, who will be able to refer to a mon­i­tor in their room to iden­ti­fy who enters it and whether, for exam­ple, it’s a doc­tor, nurse or food-ser­vice provider.

“It is a patient’s right to know who is in their room and what they are doing there. And this tech­nol­o­gy will allow them to do that with­out hav­ing to nec­es­sar­i­ly ques­tion any­one,” Mate­czun said.

Mate­czun said he’s look­ing for­ward to see­ing the Wal­ter Reed Nation­al Mil­i­tary Med­ical Cen­ter and Fort Belvoir Com­mu­ni­ty Hos­pi­tal set a new stan­dard for mil­i­tary med­i­cine.

“So this is our next step, mak­ing the improve­ments required in the com­pre­hen­sive mas­ter plan to pro­vide world-class care for our ben­e­fi­cia­ries,” he said.

“We are com­mit­ted to keep­ing the covenant we have with America’s sons and daugh­ters who come home wound­ed from Iraq and Afghanistan,” he said. “And that is what the BRAC projects have been about. We are intent on mak­ing sure that we meet the con­gres­sion­al man­date to a world-class capac­i­ty and infra­struc­ture, both here at Bethes­da and on Fort Belvoir.”

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