I volunteer at Walter Reed Army Medical Center (WRAMC) a half-day per week. I’m inspired by the soldiers in the occupational and physical therapy center, and am continually amazed by their abilities. The other day I watched a soldier with an artificial leg climb a rock wall better than I ever could, and marveled at a man who had both legs amputated above the knee – he was ambulating almost without a limp, and with the help of a straight cane alone.
As I watched these wounded warriors learning how to maximize their functional abilities – I overheard a staff member explain the reason why the Walter Reed hospital building is closing in 2011.
Apparently WRAMC is built on land owned by the District of Columbia. In an effort to subsidize the over-budget subway system, the city purposefully disallowed sufficient parking spaces to be built on the WRAMC site. The idea was to force staff to take the subway to WRAMC. The closest subway is a 20 minute walk from the hospital.
In addition to the limited parking, DC imposes a height restriction on all buildings in the district – they cannot be taller than the Washington monument. Therefore as Walter Reed grew and expanded, they could not add any floors to the hospital, but had to construct additional buildings on campus.
And so, in about three years time, Walter Reed will shut down, moving their remaining staff to the Navy hospital in Bethesda, Maryland where there is plenty of parking and no building height restrictions.
I’m not sure what the total cost of moving the army hospital to the navy center will be, but I’m guessing in the hundreds of millions. How much did the staff complaints about not wanting to walk to work play into all of this? I don’t know, but I’ve seen them drive in as early as 5:30 am to get one of the few parking spots. This attitude is consistent with Americans’ general unwillingness to adopt an active lifestyle, and it’s costing us all so much more than we realize.
It’s possible that laziness dealt the final blow to Walter Reed: a facility created to get people active again after war injuries.