Bearing the Walter Reed Bethesda purple cross, navigating the Capital Beltway, the 40-foot-long Patient Evacuation Vehicles (PEVs) are a vital part of the process that guarantees America's heroes and their families arrive at the Nation's Medical Center safely and as comfortable as possible to receive world-class care.
Ensuring the safe arrival and departure of patients to and from Walter Reed Bethesda requires round-the-clock coordination between various departments at the medical center, as well as overseas and continental U.S.-based facilities, including Joint Air Base Andrews, Md.
Cmdr. Timothy Wolfkill, assistant deputy commander for readiness and operations at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center (WRNMMC), explained that each week the world's largest joint military medical center currently receives 10 to 20 patients, with various medical conditions, on incoming air evacuation flights. He added the majority of the patients are coming from the U.S. Central Command's area of responsibility, which includes countries in the Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia, most notably, Afghanistan.
"Flights arrive and depart at all times of the day and night; they may be added at the last second or delayed for hours, and we must be prepared to meet those requirements, " explained Army Capt. Richard T. Cetkowski, patient movement nurse coordinator officer-in-charge at Walter Reed Bethesda. "Decisions sometimes have to be made quickly."
Coordination of air evacuation flights to Walter Reed Bethesda involves providers, medical evacuation team members, the command duty office, officer of the day, transportation department, and senior staff members, to ensure "the continuity and level of care is maintained and not compromised while the patients are in transit," Wolfkill added.
Cetkowski agreed, explaining the Patient Movement Cell, comprised of Patient Administration Division clerks and nurses, is constantly tracking pending inbound flights. "At the same time, we are preparing warriors and their families who are ready to move on from Walter Reed Bethesda.
"Inpatients who must be transported through the air evacuation system to other hospitals or rehab facilities must all go through our office," Cetkowski added. "We then work with doctors, liaisons, nurses, social workers and the Air Force to place these patients on flights.
"During missions, our nurses work with a team of medics and corpsmen who do everything from collecting luggage to preparing equipment and vehicles, to direct patient care," Cetkowski continued. "They must adapt to constant changes, and work to provide the same high standard of care we deliver in the [medical center]."
"Open communication is the key element to our mission," Cetkowski continued. "Our office works directly with doctors to ensure patients' medical needs will be covered in flight and that they maintain the same standard of care. We collaborate with nurses to assist with patient preparation and teaching. Social workers assist in making arrangements on both ends of the transfer. Service liaisons ensure families and warrior units are kept in the loop. We then communicate all our needs to the Air Force, who is responsible for placing these patients on flights. Every one of these steps is critical to the successful movement of our service men and women and their families."
The PEV plays a vital role in patient transport, Cetkowski explained. "The PEV is our best tool for patient transport," he said. The vehicles "are used exclusively in the National Capital Region to support the missions of WRNMMC and Fort Belvoir Community Hospital," he said.
"Our PEVs provide our team with an environment that closely mirrors the medical center," Cetkowski continued. "They allow us to have access to oxygen, suction, electricity, privacy and temperature control in the transport environment."
Walter Reed Bethesda has three PEVs, each approximately nine feet wide and 14 feet tall.
"Our drivers are trained specifically on these vehicles and work tirelessly to help us meet our mission," Cetkowski said. "In addition to supporting wounded warriors, the vehicles may be used to respond to mass casualty events, as well as provide medical support in the National Capital Area."
Andre Manly, transportation supervisor and fleet manager, has worked on base for more than 20 years and is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the Transportation Motor Pool. He manages the vehicles for Walter Reed Bethesda and Naval Support Activity Bethesda, which includes not only the PEVs, but ambulances, ambulance buses called AMBUSES, and all administrative vehicles.
Manly calls his job "a labor of love." He said what he enjoys most is "feeling what we do assist the hospital in being able to provide the world-class health care, and while on medical evacuations, being a member of the team that provides the first impression for that health care. This is truly a team effort."