Walter Reed, Bethesda on Track for Realignment

WASHINGTON – The transfer of Walter Reed Army Medical Center’s functions to Bethesda, Md., and the construction of a new hospital on Fort Belvoir, Va., are expected to be completed on schedule, top military health care leaders said yesterday.

Navy Vice Adm. John M. Mateczun, commander of Joint Task Force National Capital Region Medical, told Pentagon reporters that the mission to consolidate and integrate military health care functions in the National Capital Region is well under way, with 9,400 medical personnel and patients expected to finish moving by the end of August.

Under the Base Realignment and Closure Act of 2005, the Defense Department was required to combine four inpatient hospitals in the national capital region — Walter Reed, the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, DeWitt Army Community Hospital at Fort Belvoir, Va., and Malcolm Grow Medical Center at Joint Base Andrews, Md. — into two, while maintaining the same patient care capacity.

„This is the largest medical restructuring ever undertaken in the military health system,“ Mateczun said, adding that military medical officials are concentrating on three areas of priority throughout the process.

„One is quality of care — all of the patient care that we’re providing,“ Mateczun said. Focus also is being placed on the wounded, ill and injured service members presently under medical care, he added.

The third area of priority, he said, is „the capacity to take care of the wounded, ill and injured who are returning now from Iraq and Afghanistan as we do these moves.“

The new facility at Bethesda will include 345 medical-surgical beds, 50 intensive care unit beds and 20 operating rooms, while the expanded DeWitt hospital will hold 120, 10 and 10, respectively, Mateczun said.

The two facilities should have more than enough capacity to care for all combat casualties, as well as family members and veterans, Mateczun said, especially because military medical facilities nationwide and civilian TRICARE medical plan partners can take additional cases if the need should arise.

Of the 445 wounded, ill and injured soldiers currently assigned to the Warrior Transition Brigade at Walter Reed, about a third will transition to DeWitt, while the other two-thirds will move to the Bethesda facility, said Lt. Col. Larry Gunther, the brigade’s executive officer.

Both Bethesda and Belvoir have added and renovated barracks and lodging facilities for these service members and their families.

Patients moving to DeWitt are more ambulatory and need less specialized and intensive care, Mateczun explained. They also may have post-traumatic stress, mild-to-moderate traumatic brain injuries or substance-abuse problems, as the Fort Belvoir hospital is adding additional inpatient behavioral health and substance-abuse programs.

Service members evacuated from the combat theater and patients who need very specialized care for catastrophic injuries, such as complex orthopedic trauma and open traumatic brain injuries, will go to the new Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, along with the specialized doctors and other medical professionals who care for them. Complex surgeries such as organ transplants also will be performed at the Bethesda facility.

Walter Reed Army Medical Center, which has served the nation for 102 years, will close its doors Sept. 15, and a ceremony to case the colors of all Walter Reed activities will take place July 27.

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