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A Hospital Closes Because Staff Don’t Want To Walk Too Much?

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.

How Ironic.

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10 Responses to “A Hospital Closes Because Staff Don’t Want To Walk Too Much?”

  1. Beth says:

    Laziness? C’mon, Val, that’s a stretch. Try working a 12 hour shift on your feet, running yourself ragged, and then walking 20 minutes to the subway, day after day. Then throw in the fact that there will be days that it is raining, snowing, 95 degrees or 20 degrees.

    I tried this once. I lived within 25 minutes walking distance of the hospital in which I worked. I lasted about 2 shifts of walking to work before I was begging my coworkers to give me a ride home. I am a physically fit person and you would be hard pressed to call me lazy. Hospital staff workers deserve to have parking that they can depend on.

  2. Bkem RN says:

    Irony is that a doctor would throw stones in their own glass house. Doctors have exclusive privileges in hospitals allowing them to park immediately next to the closest entrance, while the RNs and other healthcare staff are asked to walk though the weather to just get in the door. Doctors spend only minutes with each patient, while RNs provide the consistent care, walking miles a day on the floors of the hospital, doing heavy and physically demanding tasks that few physicians would ever think to perform. For evidence of this examine the work related injury statistics of doctors compared to RNs and other floor staff.
    RNs check every doctor’s order to ensure it is safe and appropriate, and commonly intercept errors written by doctors that could hurt or kill their patients. You cannot find a nurse that has not found a serious medical error by a doctor. RNs are compensated far far less than even the lowest paid physician. Most RNs are paid by the hour and get compensated far less than your average software engineer, while performing much more demanding tasks. If a RN does not catch a doctor’s medical error it is the RN’s fault. If an RN is not able to care for all their patients safely do to understaffing and lack of supporting resources it is the RNs fault and can result in losing their license, and ability to work.
    Nurses leave work exhausted mentally and physically. Their care cannot be anything less than perfect. A doctor can write a bad order that would hurt his patient but a nurse MUST not only find the MD’s error but make sure they do not make an error themselves in order to advocate for the patients they care for. It is one of the most difficult, and demanding jobs today. The stress is palpable; the responsibility is literally a matter of life-and-death. To criticize these foot soldiers in the medical as being “lazy”, especially when you likely enjoy the perks and privileges the MD suffix provides you (including reserved parking, private building entrances, dining areas and lounges, etc) is quite disingenuous. I do not know many doctors that could manage a day in the white shoes of a nurse.

  3. Doug says:

    C’mon. The ridiculous part of the story is making your workers waste 40 minutes of their lives every day walking to work. Nurse’s are on their feet almost all day. The person who wrote this article has no concept regarding what is physically required of healthcare workers. The idiocy is all on the side of the DC and hospital managers who caused this situation in the first place.

  4. Lisa Emrich says:

    Topic only roughly related. Knowing what others can and should be able to and willing to do is difficult business.

    I saw my rheumatologist this week (I have RA) and she chewed me out for not exercising more. She wants to see me exercising at least an hour each day, even if it’s just pedaling in front of the TV.

    I also have MS and have been going to PT for two months now working on gait training, strengthening, balance, and endurance. Physical fatigue is a huge problem for me. This morning for the first time, I walked 4 minutes on the treadmill, sat and rested until I could feel my legs again. Then walked another 2 minutes before needing to rest for a significant amount of time before moving onto the weight machines.

    The disconnect between being able to exercise for an hour each day and being able to walk for 6 minutes or ride a bike for 10 minutes is huge. The picture is bigger than my attempt at being more active. It is a matter of managing physical resources to ensure quality of life and ability to function. Just as the hospital staff who needs to ensure their own well-being and ability to do their jobs well.

  5. MaxJerz says:

    It seems that there would be other solutions than just closing the hospital and constructing a new one – remodeling the existing facility, perhaps, or investing in a shuttle service for the staff. The architectural field is finally beginning to work with “flow” consultants, who look at ways to reorganize space in healthcare institutions to make it more efficient with less space. If Walter Reed were able to employ these principles, the hospital potentially could reuse space such that more parking could be built on the existing site.

    This does take a big turnaround in thinking about hospital space, though, and certainly isn’t the “easier” solution of building new. But, if the hospital is already planning to invest that much money in a new facility, why not reinvest in the same facility in a new way?

    Be well,

  6. drval says:

    Wow, people feel pretty passionate about this. Just a few points – I agree that the District of Columbia may have been inappropriately manipulative in denying adequate parking spaces to incentivize subway use. However, my surprise was simply that staff (that includes doctors, nurses, lab techs and everyone else) were so opposed to walking that they facilitated the hospital shut down. It just seemed consistent with the general resistance to exercise that goes on every day in America.

    I understand that shifts are long and people get tired – I am a physician and take the subway to Walter Reed for my shifts. The Institute of Medicine recommends 1 hour of exercise per day – walking is a great form of exercise.

    As far as the parking spaces are concerned – they should be reserved first for people who are unable to walk. As for doctors who love the “prime spots” next to the entrance – they’ll reap what they sow. (Inactivity breeds chronic disease).

    As for this doctor, I’m going to keep walking to work. For the next few years that should keep me in good shape!

  7. Abby says:

    I have to agree with many of the other comments here. Doctors are so disconnected with the nurses in hospitals, it is a wonder anything gets done. I work an eight hour shift, never get a break or lunch, often never get to go to the bathroom for those eight hours, and rarely get to sit down. Why should I have to walk 20 minutes to and from my transport home?

    Doctors are granted many priveleges that nurses do not get. When a nurse makes a ‘catch’ that a doctor misses, the doctor gets the credit. Nurses are with the patients more time than doctors and we are also the ones that have to put up with the bad behaviors, punching, spitting, swearing, etc. We even have to put up with listening to the patients complain about their doctors because they don’t want to complain directly to the doctor.

    One of the nicest priveleges that doctors are granted is parking close to the hospital. Why should parking be decided by degree status? I think it should be decided on who does the most work (aka walking). Nurses would have doctors beaten hands down. So, give nurses a break, Dr. Val, and start seeing them for what they do all day long instead of treating them as if they are lazy butt, undereducated, people who lack feelings.

  8. drval says:

    My goodness! This blog post was never meant to be about nurses. “Staff” = doctors as much as it = “Nurses.” I think this triggered some underlying anger on the part of people who feel underappreciated in their jobs. That would be a good subject for a different post.

    I personally have no ill-will towards nurses (or any hospital staff for that matter) – I’m just saying that as Americans we don’t get enough exercise, and I’m happy to forgo a parking space to get some myself.

  9. Kim says:

    Huh? I didn’t get “nurse” out of that. I got nurses, lab technicians, respiratory therapists, housekeepers, docs (they don’t always get the top spots – okay, I know the OB docs do), administrators, surgical techs, volunteers….

    Everyone is impacted by this, it seems.

    I like the shuttle idea, that would have been cheaper than moving the entire facility….

  10. Abi says:

    What happened to all the other comments that were here? Yes, they were negative but they were truthful and honest. As I stated before, it would be nice if people would put themselves in the shoes of the nurses who work 8 to 12 hour shifts, often without ever sitting down. Yes, it is healthy to walk 30 minutes every day but I prefer to hop on my bike and take a load off my feet rather than walk 40 minutes for my transport every day. Many doctors don't see this aspect of the nurses plight, being privileged enough to have parking at or near the door.


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