BETHESDA,Md. – Defense Department officials,wounded soldiers and President George Bush broke ground Thursday for the new Walter Reed National Military Medical Center at the National Naval Medical Center.
“At this new center,wounds will be healed,medical knowledge will be advanced,lives will be rebuilt,” Bush said. “And those who wear our nation's uniform will be reminded that they have the enduring gratitude of the American people.”
The new military hospital will combine the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington and the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda,the Army and Navy's two largest hospitals. The number of employees will increase from 8,000 to 10,200 people when the new building is completed in 2011.
Combining the two hospitals is a result of the 2005 Base Closure and Realignment Commission, a process authorized by Congress that the Department of Defense uses to reorganize base structures so they are more efficient and effective.
The new medical center will be a place of healing,innovation,compassion and courage,Bush said.
The Walter Reed Army Medical Center was in the news last year when the Washington Post reported on poor conditions there,including mouse droppings,stained carpets and bureaucratic problems. The chief of the hospital and the Army surgeon general both stepped down after the scandal was uncovered. The hospital also had trouble improving conditions because of staff shortages,according to the Washington Post.
The event started Thursday when the Navy Band welcomed the president. He was soon the first to ceremonially begin digging at the site of the new building,along with Department of Defense officials and wounded soldiers.
“I'm pleased to help start construction on the new hospital that will continue to provide the excellent care our troops deserve,” Bush said.
President Franklin Roosevelt selected the site and dedicated the National Naval Medical Center in 1939,and it is where presidents often receive medical care.
The new hospital will cost $1 billion over three years and will include 682,000 square feet of new construction and 320,000 square feet of renovation on the existing clinic at the National Naval Medical Center.
“It will join the resources of the Army,Navy and Air Force and make it easier for medical professionals in all three services to collaborate and care for the patients,” Bush said. “Our troops and their families will no longer have to travel between Bethesda and Walter Reed to see multiple specialists.”
The new hospital will have 345 beds and is the largest single capital investment ever made in the Military Health System.
“I love being with the healers and caregivers,and incredibly compassionate people who makes our current facility successful and will make this new center a great success,” Bush said.