By Ian Graham, Defense Media ActivityAugust 22, 2011
FORT BELVOIR, Va., Aug. 18, 2011 -- One of the biggest, most complicated parts of the Base Realignment and Closure effort is the consolidation of medical services in the Washington, D.C., area.
Two closing facilities -- Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., and Malcolm Grow Medical Center at Andrews Air Force Base, Md. -- means moving a lot of employees, facilities and patients, all without interrupting daily patient care.
Military medical leaders from around the National Capital Region met with media Thursday at the soon-to-be-operational Fort Belvoir Community Hospital, both to answer questions about the transformation process and to show off the sprawling new medical facility.
Navy Vice Adm. John Mateczun, commander for Joint Task Force National Capital Region Medical, said an especially high bar was set when it came to designing the new facilities both at Fort Belvoir and at the new Walter Reed National Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.
"We're obliged to be 'world class,'" he said.
That means operating rooms big enough to allow for any new medical technology, including robots; building 120 single-patient rooms with extra furniture so family members can stay in the hospital room with the patient; electronic communications systems to connect patients and doctors and "evidence-based" architectural design meant to remove the patients from the inner logistics and day-to-day management of a hospital.
"I can't say I'd love to be a patient here," Mateczun joked. "But I'd know I'm getting superior care here."
"I'd love to be a staff member here," he added.
Col. Susan Annicelli, commander of the DeWitt Health Care Network at Fort Belvoir, said the staff has been performing exceptionally. She said the weeks of training they've been involved in have helped the staff learn the quickest routes through the buildings and how to find what they need in the new building.
Currently very few patients have moved into barracks near the Fort Belvoir Community Hospital, but the hospital isn't officially open yet. A bystander couldn't tell the difference, though. One of the requirements in building the new hospital is to allow no gaps in care. As a result, the hospital staff has run a rigorous training regimen, including Thursday's "Day in the Life" exercise.
Col. Kathleen Ford, deputy commander for nursing at Fort Belvoir Community Hospital, said training this hard has brought the staff together as a team.
"As much as you can plan, you can't predict everything," she said. "But running through all of these scenarios and learning the facilities, we've become a well-oiled machine."
Hospital employees work with volunteer actors posing as patients and family members, simulating everything from the front desk sign-in process to infant delivery and complicated surgeries. It's crucial for the staff in training to be completely ready for opening day. Unlike most offices, being unable to find supplies quickly here could be a matter of life or death.
That urgency prompted the regional medical joint task force to standardize as many processes as they could between the Fort Belvoir and Bethesda hospitals. Phone codes, paperwork, and other infrastructure will be the same at both locations, allowing for "plug and play" transfers.
The standardized processes are central to the Base Realignment and Closure, or BRAC, move's success so far, said Lt. Gen. Eric Schoomaker, the Army's surgeon general.
"Any patients, or doctors, will have easy, seamless transfers between the national medical center in Bethesda and the hospital here at Fort Belvoir," Annicelli said.
CThe National Naval Medical Center has had a slightly more complicated time with the BRAC move. Col. Charles Callahan, the hospital's chief of staff, said in-progress repairs and expansions have made some of the BRAC transfer difficult at times.
"It's like you're running a hospital within a hospital, while you're building a hospital [around it]," he said.
Callahan said the National Naval Medical Center is ready for Aug. 28, when Walter Reed Army Medical Center transfers the last of its in-patients to Bethesda and closes its doors. The morning of Aug. 29, the soon-to-be-renamed Walter Reed National Medical Center will open its doors in Bethesda.
The staff members of the two closing hospitals are being transferred to new locations in the area. Although in-patient facilities at Malcolm Grow will be closed, ambulatory care and outpatient surgery will still be performed there. Walter Reed Army Medical Center is closing, but the expanded hospitals in Bethesda and Fort Belvoir will require at least the already existing workforce.