The long-awaited changes to National Naval Medical Center and the surrounding Bethesda neighborhood are on the horizon, as staff and patients begin to shift to their new digs in the next few weeks.
The Base Realignment and Closure transition that military officials have spent six years planning will begin moves of patients and staff at Walter Reed Army Medical Center to Bethesda’s Navy hospital in July. The historic Washington, D.C., hospital will be ready to close its gates by Sept. 15. The move is contingent on a final go-ahead from the Joint Task Force, which oversees the Walter Reed closure, and the Deputy Secretary of the Department of Defense. Those approvals are expected at the end of the month.
“Right now, everything looks green everything I’ve seen looks green,” said Navy Capt. Michael Malanoski.
Malanoski, who serves as a community liaison for Navy Med and its Bethesda neighbors, said he did not foresee any reason why the move would be put on hold, but that the construction timeline for the necessary base improvements is tight. If military officials anticipated any risk to moving patients as planned this summer, the move could be delayed.
If all goes as planned, as many as 1,500 employees and about 600 outpatients, the largest Walter Reed groups to make the move, will stagger their relocation to Bethesda over the summer. New outpatient appointments will be scheduled at Navy Med, rather than Walter Reed, and staff will relocate with the patients they serve. About 150 Walter Reed inpatients will be moved in ambulances, most likely at the end of August, said Malanoski, who briefed a group of stakeholders on the plan June 14.
“We’re hopeful this will be minimal impact,” he said at the June 14 meeting of the BRAC Implementation Committee meeting.
Navy Med has about 150 inpatients and about 600,000 annual outpatient visits; those numbers will jump to about 300 inpatients and 1 million annual outpatient visits after the consolidation, Malanoski said.
Navy Med practiced transporting and unloading patients at a rehearsal drill last week and has plans for additional practice runs of emergency routes leading up to the move.
With the influx of employees and patients will come the traffic for which Bethesda residents have been bracing.
“It’s pretty clear this transition period of a few months is going to be pretty awful for everyone,” said Ilaya Hopkins, who represents the East Bethesda Citizens Association on the BRAC Implementation Committee. The community is a next-door-neighbor to the military hospital, across Jones Bridge Road.
Jammed roads are not the only traffic woe on the minds of East Bethesda neighbors, Hopkins said. The neighborhood has experienced an increase in the number of non-resident vehicles parked on their streets. Hopkins said she could not attribute the extra vehicles to Navy Med, but said it is possible people who do not want to wait in a queue of traffic at the Navy’s gates may be parking and walking over.
The neighborhood hopes to secure residential parking signs to mitigate the problem, Hopkins said.