By DoD News
By Rob McIlvaine
As the September closing of Walter Reed Army Medical Center fast approaches, the surgeon general and other Army medical leaders met with hospital staff July 6 to ensure a smooth transition into two new area hospitals.
Patients and staff will move over the next two months into the new Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., and the new Fort Belvoir Community Hospital, in Virginia.
“This is a chance for our leadership to thank you all for the monumental work that has gone on here since 2005, since the Base Realignment and Closure law kicked in, but really over the last two years, particularly,” said Col. Norvell V. Coots, commander and CEO of Walter Reed Health Care System.
He told the staff this move is the beginning of a brave new world for military medicine, military health care — with the creation of two new joint hospitals, and eventually the future of a unified medical command, which is something that’s been needed since World War II, he said.
“We’re not really doing anything that no one else has never done before, because UCLA moved 500 patients in one day, Baptist and Catholic hospitals came together…and you know,” he said with tongue firmly planted in cheek, “if you think Army and Navy is hard, imagine trying to put the Baptists and Catholics together in one health system,” Coots said.
Coots referred to St. Mary’s Health System and Baptist Health System of East Tennessee combining all assets to become a united, nonprofit healthcare system under the name Mercy Health Partners in January 2008.
Many facilities, he said, have gone through transition, closure and cessation of operation.
“The difference is, we’ve lumped them all together… and doing them all at the same time, and still fighting a war, and still taking in combat casualties, and business as usual, for beneficiary care has not changed,” Coots said.
Walter Reed has continued to see about 75,000 outpatients a year, and provide 2,500 prescriptions a day, he said.
“We have two cultures — the Army and the Navy, but luckily, here in the National Capitol Region, our doctors have been working together for a long time,” said Maj. Gen. Carla G. Hawley-Bowland, commanding general of the North Atlantic Regional Medical Command and Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
Back in 1995, she said, Bethesda was going to lose some of its residency programs. So, they asked the Army if they could integrate because the Army had the senior staff to save their programs.
“Over the years, we have integrated many of the residency programs at Bethesda to enlarge them, to enlarge the staff, and to make them a richer program. So when we started this transition, clinically, the care was already getting done by both services in a unified fashion,” said Hawley-Bowland.
“We’ve been talking about this move for the past five or six years,” said Lt. Gen. Eric B. Schoomaker, who became the 42nd Army Surgeon General and commander of the U.S. Army Medical Command in December 2007 after serving as the commanding general, Walter Reed Army Medical Center and the North Atlantic Regional Medical Command. “And now we are so (close) toward achieving our final goal, with the help of the Navy, (and) in full view of the nation. What you are doing is a part of history.”
Schoomaker alluded to an image of medics in a medevac chopper flying through enemy territory, exposing themselves to enemy fire while rushing to the aid of a fallen comrade.
“To make this move during the pinnacle of war, to combine the Navy and Army and build a new hospital, three times the size of the original hospital … this is comparable to flying that helicopter through a field of combat,” Schoomaker said.
“By Sept 15, 2011, I’m absolutely convinced (we can make this move) without a hitch, to across the street from the National Library of Medicine, another Army institution.
The Library of the Surgeon General’s Office was established in 1836 when Dr. Joseph Lovell, the 8th surgeon general of the U.S. Army from 1818 to 1836, purchased reference books and journals for his office. NLM is now the world’s largest medical library.
“This is what the Army does. It moves to where the gunfire is … where we’re needed. Bringing these two cultures — the Army and the Navy — together has been a phenomenal achievement and we are eternally grateful for what you do.
“Thank you for honoring Walter Reed for 102 years of taking care of military men and women and their families. I look forward to seeing you on the other side of town in Bethesda and down at the new Fort Belvoir Community Hospital,” Schoomaker said.