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July 25, 2011 Readers Write 3 Comments

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Walter Reed Medical Center to be Decommissioned this Week
By Orlando Portale

7-25-2011 7-29-09 PM

As part of the Base Realignment and Closure announcement on May 13, 2005, the Department of Defense proposed replacing Walter Reed Medical Center with a new Walter Reed National Military Medical Center (WRNMMC). The new center would be on the grounds of the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, seven miles from its current location in Washington, DC. The proposal was part of a program to transform medical facilities into joint facilities, with staff including Army, Navy, and Air Force medical personnel.

At the same time, my own organization was in the design phase of our $1B “hospital of the future,” which is scheduled for a 2012 opening (our construction webcam is here.)

In the fall of 2007, I was asked by Congress and the Department of Defense to participate in an independent review of the design plans for the Walter Reed Replacement Project. My role was to identify potential technology and design shortcomings in the Walter Reed replacement facilities.

In May of 2008, our committee submitted a report, noting design and operational deficiencies, but nonetheless advising that the project proceed on schedule.

On Wednesday July 27, the Walter Reed Army Medical Center is closing its doors after more than a century. Hundreds of thousands have received treatment at Walter Reed, spanning World War I, World War II, Vietnam, and the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts. The move to the new facilities is scheduled for the weekends of August 12 and August 19.

In case you have not been to the old Walter Reed Campus, there are many important pieces of history there. The original red brick hospital was named to honor Major Walter Reed, an Army physician who treated troops and American Indians on the frontier. Dr. Reed had numerous medical achievements, but his most important work involved research that proved yellow fever was spread by the mosquito. He died in 1902 at the age 51 of complications related to appendicitis.


There is a memorial chapel on campus where President Harry S Truman visited after taking office. General Pershing had his own suite on campus for many years. Vice President Richard Nixon was treated for a staph infection over a few days, and received an unexpected visitor one day, then-Senator Lyndon B. Johnson. President Calvin Coolidge’s teenage son died in the hospital from an infected blister he received while playing tennis at the White House. President Dwight Eisenhower and Generals John Pershing and Douglas MacArthur died at Walter Reed.

In 1977, a new addition to Walter Reed was dedicated. The new hospital was as tall as a 10-story building. There were 5,500 rooms covering some 28 acres of floor space. The distance around the top three floors stretched the length of six football fields.


As you can see, the new Walter Reed National Military Medical Center is a beautiful facility. My hope is that it brings comfort and healing to those who have put their lives on the line for this country for us every day.

While our report identified a number of shortcomings with the design plans for the Walter Reed replacement facilities, many of these have been addressed. In fact, recently the new hospital was granted LEED Gold certification, which was an area addressed in our report. Very few hospitals in the US have achieved this status.

More important than the design of the new facility, however, are the extraordinary and dedicated people there who care for our wounded warriors every day. Congratulations to the great team at Walter Reed for all of their hard work and continued dedication.

Orlando Portale is chief innovation officer at Palomar Pomerado Health, San Diego, CA.

Patient Care Continuity After A Major Disaster
By Jeff White

7-25-2011 7-26-34 PM

Over the past year, we’ve been helping a hospital in New Orleans augment their data center operations to avoid a disaster when the next major hurricane grows out the Gulf of Mexico. Doing this work in the midst of other recent natural disasters across the Midwest and South has helped to reinforce my thoughts about the importance of detailed and actionable plans for disaster recovery and business continuity.

When catastrophic events occur, the concept of business continuity (BC) is really focused on continuity of patient care. This is the ability to continue to attend to those in immediate need and also assist patients who rely on their caregivers on a regular basis.

You would be amazed to know about the number of healthcare organizations with EMRs that have minimal disaster recovery (DR) and care continuity plans. Some hospitals do well in this regard; however, many others have inadequate DR plans that are infrequently revised or tested. Manual care processes for long-term systems outage also suffer from lack of definition or practice. When an organization without good plans faces a major disaster, they quickly learn about their planning deficiencies at the worst possible time.

St. John’s Regional Medical Center in Joplin, Missouri was damaged so badly by an EF-5 tornado on May 22, 2011 that all patients had to be evacuated to other hospitals in the area. When a catastrophic event occurs, the provision of care for patients can be easier and many adverse event risks avoided if some portion of the medical record is available. Recent procedures, conditions, medications, orders, lab results, and radiology reports are extremely helpful in care continuity.

Hospitals can prepare for many types of disasters. We have advance warning for hurricanes, tornadoes, and even floods. Of course, some of the less-frequent disasters such as earthquakes and fire are not preannounced. With knowledge of an impending disaster, the hospitals with an EMR can have a process for the IT department to take steps to assure that current pertinent patient information is available.

Simply printing information at each nurse station in the hospital for the admitted patients is not sufficient. The hard copy reports can be misplaced or damaged. Writing these reports to an encrypted file on a CD, DVD, and even a USB flash drive (a.k.a. memory stick or thumb drive) will assure that important patient data is immediately available after the disaster causing event has passed. When the risk of a disaster is high, write the reports to the disks and flash drive, and along with a laptop PC and spare laptop battery, seal them in a waterproof bag and lock them in a fireproof safe that is anchored to the floor, typically in the data center. If practical and time permitting, prepare a second flash drive with another copy of the data delivered to a key person as identified by the DR/BC plan.

These few simple steps can help you to continue delivering appropriate care for your patients and potentially even save lives in the aftermath of a major disaster.

Jeff White is a principal at Aspen Advisors of Pittsburgh, PA.

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