Its a new era for military healthcare in the D.C. region about a year after the closing of Walter Reed Army Medical Center and the opening of Fort Belvoir (Va.) Community Hospital.
The consolidation of three facilities into two has been both a challenge and an opportunity that Col. Sophia Tillman-Ortiz said nurses are meeting.
“Nurses, by nature, were smart, were talented, bright, adaptable, and were flexible,” said Tillman-Ortiz, RN, NP, FAM, ANCC, assistant deputy commander for nursing at Fort Belvoir.
“Our top goal is to ensure quality and safe healthcare, whether it be on the battlefield, whether it be in a clinic setting, whether it be in a hospital setting.”
The change was mandated with the enactment of the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure Law, which called for the closing of Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C.
That closure came Aug. 27, 2011, when some of the facilitys functions combined with the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., to form the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.
Other patients were routed to the 120-bed, $1.03 billion Fort Belvoir facility, about 20 miles from Washington, D.C. It replaced the DeWitt Army Community Hospital, which had provided Fort Belvoir with more limited facilities until it was closed Aug. 31, 2011.
For nurses, the challenges began in the planning stages.Col. Ellen Forster, RN
At Bethesda, “our nursing staff performed admirably in the face of tremendous challenges throughout the entire transition process,” Col. Ellen Forster, RN, NP, deputy commander for nursing at WRNMMC, said in a written statement. “We got the nurses together from both facilities (Walter Reed Army Medical Center and the National Naval Medical Center) for cross-training opportunities well in advance of the move. Cross-training was extremely effective in minimizing fear of the unknown. That was a huge lesson learned.
“Additionally, the nurses became acquainted with each others processes, which resulted in certain policies being entirely rewritten. We used evidence-based practice to drive decisions in our new way forward. Key nursing committees even blended membership prior to integration to include the Nurse Practice Council and the clinical nurse specialists.”
Preparation also was the key to a smooth, injury-free move at Fort Belvoir, Tillman-Ortiz said.
“What made our team excellent about that was we trained and trained and trained,” Tillman-Ortiz said. “I would say that we trained for nine months to make this a success.”
That 1.3-million-square-foot facility was designed to expand both capacity and specialty care. Most patients who would have been sent to Walter Reed rather than DeWitt now can receive care at Fort Belvoir. Tillman-Ortiz pointed to a breast care center, inpatient behavioral health, cardiology, rheumatology and an ICU among the expanded services.
Both Tillman-Ortiz and Forster expressed pride that their facilities quickly received Joint Commission approval.
“It is so nice to finally have everyone all under one roof!” Forster wrote. “We see strong teams developing across the organization who see past the uniforms. It would have been nice to perform even more cross-training. We are all focused on the mission of taking great care of our wounded warriors, their family members and our retirees. A defining moment and measure of achievement was our recent very successful Joint Commission survey.”
Going forward at Fort Belvoir, Tillman-Ortiz is counting on nurses to meet the challenges ahead.
“Because were working in a joint environment, were trying to bring Army, Navy, the Air Force together; we want to continue to broaden educational knowledge,” she said. “That means maintaining their competencies, ensuring that theyre getting the training, keeping up with their healthcare as that changes every day as well as the technology as that changes. And by ensuring that our nurses are competent and trained, this will enhance excellence in safety, quality as well as ensure that were delivering compassion to those who are entrusted to our care.”
John Grochowski is a copy editor.