WASHINGTON, Aug. 26, 2011 -- With Hurricane Irene threatening the U.S. seaboard, officials at Walter Reed Army Medical Center here and the National Naval Medical Center at Bethesda, Md., have moved up the transfer of the last 30 Walter Reed inpatients.
The transfer, initially planned for Aug. 28, was accelerated by one day to beat out the approaching hurricane, hospital officials announced today.
A procession of ambulances is expected to begin making the five-mile trek between the two hospitals along Washington's Capital Beltway at about 7 a.m. tomorrow, officials said. The final patient is expected to arrive at Bethesda about three hours later.
Later in the afternoon, a flag-lowering ceremony at Walter Reed will mark its official closing.
The final patient transfer will mark an 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, officials said.
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.
He was one of the chief architects behind a well-choreographed plan that included major construction and renovation projects to accommodate the newly arrived patients and medical care providers.
As the calendar moves steadily toward the Congressional mandated Sept. 15 deadline for the consolidation to be completed, Bitonti 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."