Monday, August 4, 2003

Officials at Walter Reed Army Medical Center are referring some outpatients to nearby hotels because casualties from operations in Afghanistan and Iraq have overloaded the hospital’s convalescence facility.

“We have an informal agreement with any number of hotels in the area. If we come to this point, they will take [patients] for us,” said Walter Reed spokesman Jim Stueve. “They’re very supportive and cooperative when we need that assistance.”

Mr. Stueve could not specify how many soldiers are in hotels, but said Walter Reed is referring about 20 patients or their relatives to hotels each day. Hotels in Silver Spring, just across the D.C. line, offer discounted rates for outpatients and their families, and the military pays the bill.

However, the hotel arrangement has not compromised the quality of care for incoming wounded, Mr. Stueve said.

“The staff is highly motivated to get these troops mended and on their way,” he said.

A hospital spokeswoman said: “We haven’t turned away any injured soldiers. We are treating all of them.”

The Army hospital and its convalescence facility, Mologne House, are at maximum occupancy capacity, with 96 percent of their outpatient beds filled with war wounded.

Walter Reed has been at maximum capacity since Operation Enduring Freedom began in Afghanistan in 2001, Mr. Stueve said, adding that the hospital’s 3,900 staffers have “put in a substantial amount of overtime.”

Before Enduring Freedom, the hospital’s occupancy rate had held steady at 83 percent for five years.

“We haven’t been average here for well over a year. We’ve been really busy. They’ve been rolling in here real regular,” Mr. Stueve said.

The Mologne House is a 280-bed facility for outpatients who need continued care or rehabilitation, as well as their families.

“Anybody who comes here and wants to stay there can’t,” said a hospital spokeswoman.

The hospital has 40 of 250 beds available for inpatients, but must continually open beds for new arrivals from Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany or the U.S. Naval Hospital in Rota, Spain.

“We have flights coming in almost every night from Landstuhl, so you don’t book that sucker up solid so when you have your No. 1 priority come in, you say, ‘You can’t stay here,’” Mr. Stueve said.

Walter Reed has treated about 750 patients from Operation Iraqi Freedom since the war began, 185 of whom have been battle casualties. Of the 185 battle casualties, 135 have been treated as inpatients and 50 as outpatients. The total number of battle casualty patients discharged is 111, including one death, leaving 24 currently at the medical center as inpatients.

One of the hospital’s best known patients — Army Pfc. Jessica Lynch — left Walter Reed last month to return to her family’s home in West Virginia.

A current inpatient is still in critical condition. Two others remain in critical but stable condition. Walter Reed physicians describe the conditions of other inpatients as ranging from fair to good. The patients have broken bones, orthopedic injuries, gunshot wounds and other minor injuries.

The hospital received seven battle casualties this week. Four are in serious but stable condition, one is in fair condition, and one is in satisfactory condition. The seventh received treatment as an outpatient.

President Bush declared an end to major combat in Iraq on May 1. But U.S. troops there continue to come under attack almost daily by resistance fighters, especially in cities north and west of Baghdad, where Sunni Muslims were the strongest supporters of ousted dictator Saddam Hussein.

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