New BRAC-Mandated Medical Center Locations Creating Traffic Gridlock

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WASHINGTON — The new Walter Reed National Military Medical Center (WRNMMC) and the Fort Belvoir Community Hospital (FBCH) are both designed to offer state-of-the-art medical care – assuming staff and patients can ever get to them.

New signage for Wilford Hall Ambulatory Surgical Center, or WHASC, marks the official name change of the Air Force medical facility at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas. Wilford Hall transitioned from a Level 1 trauma center to an ambulatory surgical center as a result of the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure law, directing all of the hospital’s inpatient care to move to Fort Sam Houston, Texas, by Sept. 15, 2011. The WHASC offers primary care; outpatient surgery; 24/7 urgent care for trainees and beneficiaries; medical, pediatric and surgical subspecialty clinics; Diabetes, Hearing and Eye Centers of Excellence; and a Contingency Aeromedical Staging Facility. (U.S. Air Force photo by Harold China)

Traffic has been so bad since BRAC mandated the two move to their new locations and bring thousands of employees that DoD recently announced it will give the region roughly $268 million to help improve the transportation situation. The funding was part of the DoD and Full-Year Continuing Appropriations Act of 2011 appropriated by Congress.

While BRAC-related changes in the national capital region have been in the spotlight, military-medical care in San Antonio also recently got a makeover as a result of BRAC.
There, the former Wilford Hall Medical Center (WHMC) moved about 2,000 Air Force and civilian medical personnel to the San Antonio Military Medical Center (SAMMC), where Air Force and Army personnel will care for patients. SAMMC, formerly the Brooke Army Medical Center (BAMC), is providing inpatient tertiary care, as well as all trauma and emergency medical care.
The former WHMC became the Wilford Hall Ambulatory Surgical Center (WHASC) and is offering primary care, same-day surgery, urgent care, and pediatric, surgical, subspecialty and ancillary support for 38 specialties. The center also will continue to support its contingency aeromedical staging facility for transiting wounded warriors and an Eye, Hearing and Diabetes Centers of Excellence.
With the changes, SAMMC became a Level 1 trauma center and DoD’s largest inpatient hospital, and WHASC is the DoD’s largest ambulatory surgical center, according to the WHASC.
While both SAMMC and WHASC will be staffed with Air Force and Army personnel, they will remain under the commands of an Army and Air Force general officer, respectively.
“The stand up of the health system has gone very well. We are working collaboratively with our Army colleagues to establish an executive-oversight function to ensure we have a premier, integrated military-health system here in San Antonio,” Maj. Gen. Byron Hepburn, MD, commander of the 59th Medical Wing at WHASC told U.S. Medicine in a written interview.
In addition to helping staff make the transition, Hepburn said a communication campaign was launched in San Antonio, “to ensure our patients understood why changes were being made and how the changes will benefit them.”
Hepburn said he believes that combining the staff at the two medical centers will provide more opportunities to collaborate between the services. Additionally, SAMHS will work to increase partnering opportunities with civilian-medical institutions in San Antonio.
“With a combined economic impact of over $1 billion annually, military medicine in San Antonio will continue to play a significant role in the fiscal health of this region,” he said.

In Maryland, $88.9 million will go toward a variety of street projects near the new WRNMC.

“Our troops fight overseas to protect our freedom; they shouldn’t have to fight traffic to get the care they’ve earned when they get back,” said Sen. Barbara Mikulski, (D-MD), in a statement last month when the funding was announced.

In Virginia, where Fort Belvoir is located, $180 million will go toward widening U.S. 1 near Fort Belvoir’s Main Post from Telegraph Road to Mulligan Road, in order to accommodate the more than 11,000 new DoD employees and 574,000 hospital patients that will visit Fort Belvoir’s new hospital, according to a release from Virginia’s U.S. Senate and House members who represent districts that are impacted by the traffic.

“I am pleased the Pentagon recognized the importance of this project to assist the thousands who commute daily to and through Fort Belvoir along the Richmond Highway corridor,” Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA) said.

Also receiving funding for traffic problems will be San Antonio, which is getting $25 million to improve access to the San Antonio Military Medical Center. Another $5.7 million was allotted for improvements for access to Madigan Army Medical Center at Joint Base Lewis-McChord near Tacoma, WA.

Addressing Traffic

The new WRNMMC and the Fort Belvoir Community Center at Fort Belvoir opened in September after several years of planning.  

Prior to the opening of WRNMMC, Walter Reed Army Medical Center was located in the northern part of Washington,DC, while the National Naval Medical Center (NNMC) was in Bethesda, MD. The newly combined medical facility, however, is on the campus of the former NNMC, adjacent to an already busy road and opposite the NIH, creating traffic gridlock in the area.

Traffic near Fort Belvoir in Virginia also is an issue in the capital region.

When the BRAC process was under way in 2005, local leaders and residents were concerned about whether traffic in busy areas would be worsened.


Traffic in Bethesda, MD, dramatically increased after the opening of Walter Reed National Military
Medical Center. Brian Lewis/The Gazette. Used with Permission.

A study released earlier this year, sponsored by DoD, examined the traffic issues associated with the BRAC changes around the country and called for DoD to “pay its share of local transportation improvements,” to assist traffic problems related to BRAC.

“Resolving metropolitan-area transportation congestion problems is complex and expensive. The additional travel demand on congested routes serving bases caused by BRAC 2005 cannot be accommodated in a matter of a few months or years. Over time, delays can be eased, but greater DoD funding, realigned metropolitan-area priorities and better communication between base commanders and civilian authorities will be required,” the report brief from the National Research Council’s Transportation Research Board stated. 

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