11 June 2012

Debate over future of Landstuhl hospital continues

Aerial photo of Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, courtesy LRMC.

Stars and Stripes, August 2008:

The largest American hospital outside the United States is set for a $405 million upgrade.

Set for completion in 2014, a five-story tower would house inpatients at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center.

Landstuhl commander Army Col. Brian Lein received official word Thursday the project had been approved. Construction is slated to begin in fiscal 2011.

The Landstuhl tower has been a long time coming.

Constructing a tower at the hospital has been talked about for at least 20 years. U.S. troops wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan receive treatment at Landstuhl before flying back to military hospitals in the States. Since 2001, Landstuhl has treated more than 50,000 patients from Iraq and Afghanistan.

The New York Times, June 2012:

As the Pentagon and Congress argue over how to shrink the military to fit smaller federal budgets, no debate over matching money to mission is more heartfelt than the order to shut down the premier overseas hospital for grievously wounded troops and replace it with a new one.

With scant public notice, the Defense Department is closing, and relocating, the aging hospital, the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, the only top-level military trauma center outside the United States.

The hospital has earned its vaunted reputation over the past decade as it has evacuated, treated and stabilized all American military personnel wounded in Afghanistan and Iraq. It treats 500,000 patients a year.

There is no dispute that replacing the hospital, which opened 59 years ago, is a good idea. And building its replacement next to Ramstein Air Base in Germany would reduce transit time for patients. Additional savings would be found by closing Ramstein’s existing clinic and combining it with the Landstuhl replacement.

But with the Iraq war over, involvement in Afghanistan winding down, and troop reductions in Europe, there is debate over the size of the new facility.

Not to mention that the cost estimates for this new solution are three times that of the earlier one.

In a blistering critique of the Pentagon’s initial plan, the Government Accountability Office, the auditing and investigative arm of Congress, rejected proposals from Dr. Jonathan Woodson, the assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, because he had failed to show how the Pentagon had come up with a $1.2 billion price tag for the hospital.

In the Pentagon’s official response to Congress, Dr. Woodson wrote that he accepted the Government Accountability Office’s criticisms. He emphasized that the Defense Department had conducted a reassessment of the $1.2 billion proposal. A new plan — along with “a documented audit trail of how the size, scope and cost of the alternatives” were determined — would be provided to Congress after it was approved by Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta, he wrote. No timetable was provided.

Update, 18 June:
Stars and Stripes has published a follow up story, DOD reassessing plans for new medical center near Ramstein.

DOD was awarded $71 million this fiscal year for the first phase of construction, money which will allow the department “to begin some site preparations as we address the concerns raised by the Congress,” [Pentagon spokeswoman Cynthia] Smith said in an email.

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