By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
FORT BELVIOR, Va., July 9, 2013 – The old adage that “if you build it, they will come” doesn’t necessarily apply to military hospitals, the commander of the new Fort Belvoir Community Hospital recognizes.
But with a gleaming 1.3-million-square-foot facility and a strategy centered on taking care of patients and their families, Callahan has set out to attract more of the 164,000 military health care beneficiaries in the region that currently use TRICARE to seek their care at Fort Belvoir.
“Because Fort Belvoir Community Hospital is not the only game in town, we must compete with civilian facilities who also want to care for our patients,” Callahan said. “My opinion is that the way to do that is to build a system that people want to come to.”
The new hospital stands in stark contrast to the 1950s-era DeWitt Army Community Hospital it replaced. Built in compliance with the congressionally mandated 2005 Base Realignment and Closure reorganization plan, the new hospital is part of a sweeping plan to improve the efficiency of military health care in the Washington, D.C., area.
While the renamed Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., serves as the military’s premier referral medical center, Fort Belvoir provides primary and specialty care to a largely regional clientele.
Shortly after assuming command last year, Callahan unveiled an organizational strategy aimed at making the hospital the facility of choice to an estimated half-million eligible beneficiaries in the national capital area.
In the most basic terms, it boils down to economics, he explained. The Defense Department spent $19 billion on health care in 2001 and will spend $49 billion this year. That figure is expected to skyrocket to $92 billion by 2030 -- consuming almost 10 percent of the entire DOD budget.
As Callahan sees it, paying for patients to get care at civilian facilities when military ones can accommodate them doesn’t make financial sense. “We are buying the care twice,” he said, paying for the new $1 billion Fort Belvoir hospital and its staff, but also picking up the tab for 164,000 people enrolled in the regional TRICARE network.
“Something has to change,” Callahan said, particularly with rising health care costs on a collision course with shrinking budgets.
So Callahan has taken matters into his own hands, working to create an environment “where patient- and family-centered care meets evidence-based design in a culture of excellence.” That boils down to a facility where patients and families have hassle-free access to the highest-quality care and services, and where they feel comfortable and welcomed as they receive them, he explained.
Everything about the Fort Belvoir Community Hospital supports this vision. The new facility has greater capabilities than standard community hospitals. It includes 120 single-inpatient rooms, a 10-bed intensive-care unit, 10 state-of-the-art operating rooms, a behavioral health unit, an advanced cancer care center, breast care center, emergency department, pharmacy, diagnostic centers and modular clinic space for outpatient services.
Planners have made getting these services as simple and convenient as possible. Appointments are easy to make and parking is plentiful. Once inside the hospital, patients and their families are treated to a beautiful, calming environment designed to be therapeutic: lots of natural light and outside views, décor inspired by nature and color-coded wings that help visitors maintain their bearings.
One of the most soothing features is what visitors don’t see. There’s no click-clacking of laundry carts crowding the hallways, and maintenance and other logistics activities are relegated to non-prime operating hours.
The staff took a cue from The Walt Disney Co., instituting its strict standards of “on-stage” and “off-stage” activities, Callahan explained.
“The idea that health care should have at least the same service standards as any other service industry is not the way health care has always looked at itself,” he said. “But this is really evolving, and it is part of the culture of excellence that we are working to establish here.”
It’s all part of a plan to make care at the facility centered on the patient and family, he said. That begins the moment they pick up the phone to make an appointment and continuing when they arrive at the facility and throughout their treatment.
But most importantly, Callahan said it centers on a relationship between patients and the health care providers who make up their “medical home.” Unlike most civilian doctors whose focus is on treating patients when they are sick -- necessitated largely by the way insurance reimburses them for services -- medical home providers concentrate on keeping patients healthy, he explained.
It’s a formula Callahan said the entire Military Health System is embracing, and that makes Fort Belvoir Community Hospital particularly attractive to military health care beneficiaries.
“People like coming here,” he said. “But they also have a choice” about where they get their care.
"As we implement this strategy, we are building a culture of excellence and an [environment] that people will want to come to," he said.
"We know that consistent, predictably accessible, and convenient health care created around the medical home and medical neighborhood will build trust, foster communication and provide opportunities to promote health and well-being for our beneficiaries,” Callahan said. “This is the mission and the vision of the Fort Belvoir Community Hospital."