Sequester cuts hit Walter Reed; staff members weigh in

WASHINGTON – The sequester is starting to take a bite out of services at military hospitals, including Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, where many wounded warriors go for care.

“They’re being discharged earlier, they are not getting to surgeries when they need to,” Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va., told WTOP. “And one of the things they’re having to do is to contract out, which is going to cost more money.”

According to a report in USA TODAY, operating room hours have been cut and mental health beds reduced at Walter Reed.

The paper says the number of operating rooms in use at Walter Reed has gone from 23 to 20 on Mondays through Thursdays and down to 10 on Fridays, when most civilians take their furlough day.

Meanwhile, the number of beds in the in-patient mental health section has been cut from 28 to 22.

The furloughs took effect at Walter Reed on July 8, affecting almost all 2,500 civilians at the center who account for just over one-third of the entire staff. When the center announced the furloughs in late May, it said patient care would not be compromised.

Another recent sign that the spending cuts are having an impact: The outpatient pharmacies at Walter Reed will now be open on weekdays only. In a statement, the Department of Pharmacy urged everyone to be understanding, acknowledging some long prescription wait times lie ahead.

On Tuesday morning, some Walter Reed staffers told WTOP the care of wounded warriors is being compromised by the furloughs.

“It’s bad,” said one nurse, outside the hospital gates, who did not want to be identified. “We’re sending patients to outside civilian care.”

A lab technician in the pathology department said her lab is working with “a lot fewer people.”

“It’s not good,” she said. “Doctors are waiting longer for lab results.”

Still, other staffers insisted that patient care is not being adversely impacted.

One nurse who works in the pediatrics unit at the hospital said she hasn’t seen any negative impact in her unit, but conceded that the hospital has reduced the number of patient beds to cope with furloughs.

Another individual, who identified herself as a trauma nurse practitioner, said work in her unit has not been affected.

“We haven’t had any tests delayed; we’re not seeing any impact,” she said, although she described staff morale as “awful” because of the furloughs.

“The furloughs send a terrible message to the civilian staff about our worth,” she said.

WTOP’s Dick Uliano, Paula Wolfson and Dave McConnell contributed to this report. Follow @WTOP on Twitter.

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