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Closing Walter Reed hospital more expensive than predicted

By Charley Keyes, CNN Senior National Security Producer
  • Army says consolidation cost more than doubled
  • Higher steel prices, bigger operating theaters contributed
  • Facility will be merged with naval hospital in suburban Maryland
  • Process must be finished by September 15

Washington (CNN) -- Time is up for the six-year process of closing Walter Reed, the century-old Army hospital in Washington.

And now the Army says the cost of closing that hospital and consolidating it with Bethesda Naval Medical Center in suburban Maryland has more than doubled to $2.6 billion since the plan was announced in 2005 by the Base Realignment and Closing Commission (BRAC).

"All the BRAC estimates were around a billion dollars. There certainly have been adjustments since then," Vice Adm. John Mateczun said at the Pentagon Tuesday. He's commander of the Joint Task Force that is overseeing the transition to what will be named the Walter Reed National Medical Center in Bethesda.

Higher steel prices in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, changes prompted by Washington Post reports of inferior care at the hospital and requirements for single-patient rooms and larger operating theaters contributed to the higher costs, Mateczun said.

"We got the funding we needed," he said. "The care of those wounded, ill and injured coming back (from the war zones) being the highest priority next to the war itself."

The new combined hospital will have 345 beds for medical and surgical patients, 50 intensive care beds and 20 operating rooms.

Under law the transition must be completed by September 15. Mateczun said patients would be moved from Walter Reed by the end of August, with one trial run of patient transfers by ambulances already completed and another set for coming weeks.

"We are in the final phase," he said.

As part of the realignment, a new hospital has been built at Fort Belvoir, in Fairfax County, Virginia, that will absorb some Walter Reed functions as well as replace the DeWitt Army Community Hospital.