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A New Hospital For New Challenges

More than 150,000 patients and beneficiaries throughout the Washington Metropolitan Area will enjoy enhanced health care when the new DeWitt Army Community Hospital at Fort Belvoir opens its doors in early 2008.

To be located on the northern portion of the post, it received approval of the National Capital Planning Commission in September, reported Colonel Loree K. Sutton, the new commander of the DeWitt Health Care Network. It is scheduled for Congressional review and authorization in February 2003.

Plans call for advertising construction contract bids in September 2003, with actual building to begin on the projected $112 million facility in January 2004. "We hope occupancy will be in late 2007 or early 2008," Sutton said.

"The typical life of a medical facility, such as this, is approximately 50 years, with a major upgrade at about the half way point," she explained, while sitting in her office at the present hospital on Farrell Road within the post. "That upgrade was never done. But, it has been updated and redesigned to keep pace with the changes in health care over the years."

DEWITT WAS the second of nine new hospitals planned by the Army during the building program following the Korean War. It was formally dedicated on June 26, 1957, at the U.S. Army Medical Department, Fort Belvoir, having cost approximately $4.5 million.

Built as a 250-bed facility, plans provided for future construction to double that in-patient capability, if necessary. "It was constructed along highly functional lines with many features that were considered quite modern" for the time, according to a background history.

In 1995, DeWitt Health Care Network became part of the Walter Reed Health Care System. As such, it oversees family health care clinics in Fairfax and Woodbridge as well as at Fort Myer and Fort A.P. Hill, as well as the services administered at Fort Belvoir.

"Although we are very early in the process of building the new facility, gaining approval of the Planning Commission and the 35 percent design plan marked a significant milestone in the process," Sutton emphasized. Funding for the new hospital will be spread over fiscal years 2005 and 2006.

"It doesn't make sense to have this old facility just limp along, even though we have been making improvements. The new hospital will allow us to increase services and better serve our increasing number of patients and beneficiaries," she said.

SUTTON TOOK COMMAND in July. She succeeded Colonel Eileen B. Malone who had served as DeWitt commander for the past two years. Prior to assuming her new duties she served as the deputy commander for Clinical Services at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri. A trained psychiatrist, Sutton is also a graduate of the National War College.

During change of command ceremonies, Colonel Jonathan H. Jaffin, commander, Walter Reed Army Health Care System, noted, "We stand in front of one of the oldest health care facilities currently in the Department of Defense."

He credited Malone, now serving in the Office of the Surgeon General, with turning the health care system into more than just a name and with "Looking even further into the future" to fight for and plan for "a new major treatment facility to give the beneficiaries in this part of Virginia the care they have earned. She has developed population models to ensure that her patients have the proper mix of specialists and primary care providers."

That mix includes, among others, specialists in family practice, internal medicine, pediatrics, neurology, cardiology, urology, and obstetrics and gynecology, Sutton clarified. "We concentrate more on out-patient services. That is why the new hospital will only be a 20 bed facility. Patients needing longer hospital care are transferred to Walter Reed," she said.

A TYPICAL DAY AT DeWitt consists of 1,677 outpatient visits, issuing 2,745 prescriptions, admitting eight patients, performing nine surgeries, and delivering two babies. However, there are normally only 19 beds occupied at any given time, hospital statistics reveal.

DeWitt Health Care Network is the only military facility south of the Potomac River. The 46 bed DeWitt Hospital is the core of that network. Presently, it provides "an intensive care unit, medical/surgical unit, labor and delivery, mother/baby wards, adolescent partial hospitalization program, and a 24-hour emergency room."

Centered around a primary care cadre of medical expertise, are services in ambulatory surgery, musculoskeletal medicine, maternal/child health, behavioral health, and emergency services. These are provided by a medical and support staff of approximately 1,481.

Like most health care programs today, DeWitt also offers preventive services through its Wellness Center and Well-Woman Clinic. The former "is designed to prevent disease and encourage health promotion on a walk-in, self referral basis."

Classes at the center focus on weight management, tobacco cessation, gestational diabetes, asthma training and education, breast feeding, and cancer support groups. The Well-Woman Clinic services include pap smears, breast exams, and birth control education. Counseling, education, lab, radiology and specialty referrals are provided.

DeWitt is affiliated with Tricare, the health care program for active duty and retired military personnel, their families and survivors. Those 65 and older must be enrolled in Medicare Part B to use the Tricare Senior Pharmacy program, Sutton emphasized.

IN ADDITION TO hospital services, DeWitt has one of the most active pharmacies in the area. "We operate both an on-site pharmacy and a mail order services which enables our clients to have prescriptions filled for 90 days rather than the usual 30 days. We really want our seniors to be aware of this possibility," Sutton said.

All of this and more will be available at the new hospital which will be located near the post commissary and Post Exchange. "We will also have our own helipad to transport critical patients to Walter Reed. It will enable us to serve them right from the hospital rather than transport them to the parade field as we do now," Sutton said.

"There will be parking for approximately 800 cars in a surface lot. We will have a decontamination pavilion, to deal with chemical and biological agents, there as we are now adding here," she clarified. "Since we work closely with Inova Mount Vernon Hospital we can share other specialty facilities such as their hyperbaric chamber."

Fort Belvoir Garrison Commander, Colonel T.W. Williams, is more than looking forward to the new medical facility, according to Donald N. Carr, the Post's director of Public Affairs. "We are very excited about this new hospital since we, in effect, run a small city here at Belvoir.

"Not just because of our existing military personnel and their families, but, with our new housing program, our population will be increasing. We serve over 100,000 throughout the area and the new hospital will be a real asset," Carr exclaimed.

Founded in 1917 as Camp Humphries Hospital, it became the Fort Belvoir Station Hospital in 1932, and the DeWitt Army Community Hospital in 1957. It began as America entered its first global conflict. It is being reborn at the commencement of the third.