The commander of the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center (WRNMMC) Rear Adm. Matthew Nathan hosted a series of "Admiral's Calls" last week, opening the floor to address staff concerns.
All staff members were invited to attend the six calls held Tuesday through Thursday in the hospital's Laurel Clark Memorial Auditorium. The commander began the hour-long calls by briefing staff about parking and integration before taking questions about getting around base, carpooling, IT, phones, and furniture.
"You're here today to tell me things we need to be doing, [and] that we need to think about," Nathan said.
Nathan explained that this BRAC project, unlike others in the military, did not cut or relocate any federal or military employees; therefore, the command has had to re-evaluate parking on base. He went on to explain the new parking system, implemented Sept. 8, was developed in part to help alleviate traffic in the region and to encourage commuters to use public transportation. The plan delegates parking spaces to tenants on base based on their percentage of staff compared to the overall base population, giving priority to patients, care providers, wounded warriors, emergency services, handicapped, lodging and carpool spaces.
The commander went on to assure staff that leadership continues to seek alternate parking opportunities. Short term plans involve leasing off-base parking, and then creating a shuttle service to transport staff back and forth, he said. Meanwhile, long term plans include adding more parking spaces.
Staff members are also encouraged to consider public transportation or carpooling. A carpool, which must consist of at least two staff members, and carpool groups must park in designated spaces. With a recent growth in the program, there are now 250 spaces available, up from 100.
To help free up parking and cut down on traffic on base, Nathan added supervisors are also encouraged to look at telecommuting. He went on to note that leadership recognizes the growing pains staff members are going through.
"I want to thank you for putting up with some of these inconveniences ... I know of no other crew in the world then this one that could pull this off the way you have," he said.
Staff addressed transporting patients around base, especially those in wheelchairs. Nathan said ramps and sidewalks on base are ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliant; however, to further enhance safety for all patients and staff, he said, "We're trying to increase the number of transport personnel."
In addition, the hospital is looking to implement "people movers," such as those used in airports, he said. There is also a wayfinding system in place to help patients and personnel better identify areas of the hospital and locate services.
Fortunately, Nathan added, there is also a spirit that exists where staff members are constantly reaching out to help one another. "Our attitude has been, 'how can I help you?'" he said. He also noted, "The Blue Jacket [staff] have been amazing," standing by to make sure patients, visitors and new staff get to where they need to go. "Over the coming weeks, you'll get to know this place like the back of your hand."
For those who have recently moved into new and/or renovated spaces, Nathan explained that the IT department is ensuring all areas up and running, especially those areas directly working with patients.
"IT has been working around the clock," said Nathan. IT has also added extra staff to provide support during this time of transition.
In addition to phones and computers, he said, leadership is making sure all spaces are equipped with furniture and supplies. Leaders will be walking through the hospital to ensure all needs are met.
"What you're doing right now, this is us recalibrating," he said. While there may be hiccups, he added, "The patients are being taken care of safely, so I thank you for this."
He went on to say that the command continues to welcome feedback, especially during this time of transition.
Among those who attended the calls, Army Sgt. Christopher Reed, a student in the dialysis tech course at WRNMMC, said he appreciated the opportunity to meet face-to-face with the commander, not only so staff could raise concerns but also to offer any suggestions.
"It's important for morale so people can feel their voice is heard," said Reed. "That helps the organization as a whole."
Navy Lt. Cmdr. John McGlorthan, who works in Orthopedics, shared the same stance. He said he was particularly interested in hearing the commander's perspective on parking.
"The admiral is a very good motivational speaker," said McGlorthan. "He offers good direction for the staff."
Nathan expressed his gratitude for all staff, their patience, and efforts to ensure a seamless transition during integration between the National Naval Medical Center (NNMC) and Walter Reed Army Medical Center (WRAMC).
"I have never seen a military civilian team as cohesive and as unified, and as dependent on one another. The respect that I've seen between the military and civilian workforce here is an example to be followed by the rest," he said. "People are watching us because they want to do what we've done. They want to take what we're doing and they want to export it across the military health care system. You are the leaders."
He added that he recognizes the challenges that all staff members have overcome. For those formerly working at WRAMC, it is painful to leave an institution that's been in existence for 102 years, he said, not unlike those who have worked at Bethesda for 30 years, or 50 years, and now realize the hospital is no longer NNMC.
"Everybody has given and taken during this [integration]," he said. "You do your job, [and] you make it happen. You're not going to let anybody who comes here for care suffer, whether you do clinical work or administrative work. America needed and asked for the best when they built this place, and they got it. You're an amazing group of individuals, and the country's lucky to have you. We owe you the best, that's why we're here, to figure out how we can make it better for you. My job is to make it easier for you to do your job, because your job is so important. We are one team, we are one fight, [and] we are now the most prestigious medical center in the history of the military."