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Wounds Of War

With the number of casualties from Iraq growing, Walter Reed and other military hospitals have been transformed.

November 09, 2003|Esther Schrader | Times Staff Writer

"We are constantly checking how many burn beds we have, checking on supplies," hospital spokeswoman Nelia Schrum said. "They are complicated injuries that require lengthy therapy and treatment."

As soon as possible, the Army tries to move patients to smaller hospitals close to their home bases and families.

It was at one of those facilities, at Ft. Stewart in Hinesville, Ga., that the quality of treatment was deemed to be substandard.

Reserve and National Guard soldiers recuperating from wounds or illnesses contracted in Iraq were housed in barracks without air conditioning or private bathrooms and often forced to endure long waits for surgery and other treatment, said Brig. Gen. Richard L. Ursone, assistant Army surgeon general for force protection.

Ursone evaluated problems there this month after news reports about the poor conditions. Hospital officials, anticipating the surge of patients, had added rooms and surgery facilities but had not yet hired staff, Ursone said.

Late last month, Acting Army Secretary Les Brownlee traveled to Ft. Stewart to see the problems for himself. Days later, sick reservists living in the substandard barracks were moved to better accommodations, some at other military bases. New case managers were dispatched to Ft. Stewart's Winn Army Community Hospital to help move reservists through the system.

Meanwhile, Army officials are reviewing care at the 28 other Army hospitals around the country to ensure that patients are receiving adequate medical attention.

The staff at Walter Reed, with responsibility for the majority of the seriously wounded, has tried to address potential problems before they arise.

When they had trouble getting timely information from their counterparts in Germany on the number and type of casualties being flown to Walter Reed, it sent over its own nurse to report back.

Meanwhile, doctors have been known to schedule the multiple surgeries of patients who have become friends on staggered schedules so the patient who is in better shape on a given day can console the other.

"The whole hospital is on a war footing and emotionally involved," said Kiley, the commanding officer. "The broader challenge is how do you keep the battle tempo up for a long period of time."

As casualties continue to mount in Iraq, the bulletin board at Walter Reed's physical therapy unit long ago ran out of room. "This is like 1%" of the Iraq casualties who passed through the hospital, said Hannah, one of the physical therapists. "If we had a picture of everyone, it would take up a whole wall."

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