Hospital Consolidation Going Smoothly, Commander Says

WASHINGTON, Aug. 25, 2011 – As the largest-ever realignment of military health care facilities nears culmination, the commander of the task force executing the effort is pleased with how it has gone.

„The process has gone extraordinarily smoothly,“ Navy Vice Adm. (Dr.) John M. Mateczun said yesterday during an interview with the Pentagon Channel and American Forces Press Service.

Joint Task Force National Capital Region Medical was created in 2007 to oversee a base realignment and closure law mandate to close Walter Reed Army Medical Center here and Malcolm Grow Medical Center at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland, and to consolidate care at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., and a new Fort Belvoir Community Hospital in Virginia.

The consolidated facility in Bethesda will be called the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. Patient consolidation has occurred throughout most of August, and will conclude in the coming days with the transport of Walter Reed’s remaining inpatients � about 50 people � to Bethesda, Mateczun said, adding that he does not anticipate problems with the seven-mile ambulance transports.

The national capital region has „more experience than anywhere else in the country,“ he noted, receiving patients at least three times per week on flights from Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany.

The hospitals will sequence the departure and arrival of patients, the admiral said, so as not to overwhelm any one ward. Each patient will travel in an ambulance with his or her team of care providers, as well as family members if there is room, he said.

While the move has gone smoothly, Mateczun said, it comes at a critical time for patients. The task force issued letters about the realignment early this year and set up a hotline for people to ask questions during the transition.

„This is a disruptive time in their lives, and I’m very sorry we had to bring more disruption,“ the admiral said. „But we wouldn’t do it if we didn’t think it will be better for them.“

Any reservations patients or their families have had about the move generally dissolve as they walk into the new facilities, Mateczun said. „It’s been very gratifying for us to watch them and their reactions as they move in,“ he said.

The new hospitals and clinics represent the covenant the services have with wounded warriors to provide them with the best possible care, the admiral said. „There is a new paradigm for not just providing acute care, but for therapeutic care, as well,“ he said.

The new facilities go beyond federal requirements for disability standards, providing a specialized environment for wounded warriors and their families, Mateczun said. „We like to say they are ‚wounded warrior compliant,'“ he said.

The facilities are wheelchair- and prosthetic-ready, the admiral said, and inpatient suites are designed so wounded warriors may live with family members and gain independence by doing daily tasks such as cooking and laundry. „It’s a new model for the military,“ he said.

The Fort Belvoir hospital, Mateczun said, is leading the nation in what is known as „evidence-based designs,“ or „smart rooms,“ that give patients a monitor to see when someone enters their room, along with the person’s name and title, as well as more control of temperature, lighting and television. Also, providers will be able to access a patient’s electronic health record in their room in coordination with the patient, he said.

„We need to make sure that patient care is our No. 1 priority,“ he said, „and we also need to take care of the staff and make sure that they stay.“

The task force has done just that, Mateczun said, because the realignment law guaranteed placement for Walter Reed’s 2,200 employees at either Bethesda or Fort Belvoir. „They stuck with us, and we are very grateful we are able to keep them all,“ he said.

In planning the moves, Mateczun said, the task force also created efficiencies through interoperability, buying the same equipment for the facilities and allowing for the same maintenance contracts.

„It’s more than world-class care,“ he said. „It’s world-class service. Our end goal is to try to reach an integrated system of patient care when the patient needs it, and where they need it.“

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