BETHESDA, Md. – A crackdown is under way this month at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, where parking for the hospital is a challenge — even for veterans in need of care.
“What broke my heart is that one of our wounded warriors had to get to an appointment (at the hospital), but he had to turn around and go home because there was no place to park,” says one staffer on the base, who asked WTOP not to use his name.
Since March 11, military officers have been patrolling the garage entrance to stop employees from taking spots. There are about 1,100 parking spaces in the patient lot.
“We were finding that people were parking in the patient garage that weren’t patients, but were staff and visitors,” says Sandy Dean with the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda.
The officers are not police. They’re hospital security in military uniform.
“They’ll ask, ‘Do you have an appointment today?’ What that has done is show staff that the hospital is making sure there are ample spots for the patients, and the staff is following the rules,” says Ryan Emery, transportation program coordinator for Naval Support Activity Bethesda.
Dean says that the patrols will remain in place until early April.
The parking problem isn’t new for a base that received more 2,000 new employees in 2011 during the Base Realignment and Closure relocation from Walter Reed in Northwest D.C.
Overall, there are about 11,600 staff on the base. Many work at the hospital. The waiting list to get a parking permit is often several months long.
The two closest staff parking garages hold about 1,600 vehicles combined, but it takes several minutes to get to the hospital from these garages. Other parking lots for staff are farther away, but few want to park and walk 15 minutes or wait for a shuttle that runs around the base.
Emery says that since the patrols have begun, the situation in the patient garage has improved.
Around noon on Tuesday, there were about 175 spots available on the upper levels.
“It’s safe to assume the garage would fill up before noon, and patients would spill over to other garages,” says Emery of the situation before the parking enforcement began.
However, not everyone is pleased with the crackdown in the garage.
“What about the people taking care of the patients? We want them stress-free. We don’t want them to have to come and look for a space for 45 minutes. Or since there aren’t enough spaces, they’ll just tell staff that you can’t park here,” says the anonymous staffer on the base.
Alex Reyes, who commutes from Stafford, uses Metro and won’t change his habits because of the parking.
“It’s just more convenient because I don’t have to worry about traffic or the parking problems. Most of my colleagues just use the Metro,” Reyes says.
Others carpool or ride buses to avoid the parking crunch.
Meanwhile, more spaces are on the way. According to the National Capital Planning Commission, facilities must provide one spot for every three people. The goal is to reach that ratio by 2018.
“In the next five to 10 years, there will be more parking and the situation will get better,” Emery says.