By Tom Philpott
Published Thursday, April 16, 2009
Extraordinary steps in the evolution of military medicine are occurring in the Washington, D.C., area where new medical facilities are being built to consolidate services, and a joint command is being readied to adopt cutting-edge concepts to improve quality and efficiency of service health care.
Two famed medical facilities — Walter Reed Army Medical Center and Bethesda Naval Medical Center — are being combined into one “world class” medical center, the biggest in the military, said the project’s top officer.
Two nearby community hospitals also are being merged into one large new hospital at Fort Belvoir, Va., a facility that will cover as much ground as a local shopping mall with its length equal to that of two aircraft carriers.
At both facilities military staff will be Army, Navy and Air Force health care providers and serve in joint billets. The proportional mix of service staff has not been set but will be influenced by medical deployment needs.
Overseeing the $2.4 billion project, the largest capital infrastructure investment ever made in the military health system, and struggling to mesh three service cultures under a single command is Navy Vice Adm. John M. Mateczun, commander of Joint Task Force National Capital Region Medical.
In an interview, Mateczun said National Capital Region Medical will be a test bed not only of joint staffing but for “transformative business practices” and new approaches to military health care delivery.
In the National Capital Region, for example, officials will strive to improve integration of health care service provided through military facilities and through purchased care from the TRICARE network of civilian physicians or health insurance.
National Capital Region Medical has decided to run a single civilian work force structure for all of its medical facilities, including 37 clinics. It will be organized to eliminate other cross-service redundancies and to centralize specialty care services.