New hospital an ‘absolute must’

Hood Herald/Steven Doll - Col. Casper P. Jones III, commander of Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center, speaks Thursday at a press conference about plans for a new hospital.

By Amanda Kim Stairrett

Fort Hood Herald

It was announced that a new hospital would be built at Fort Hood just a month shy of Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center's 44th birthday.

More than $620 million from $1.3 billion in American Recovery and Reinvestment funds will go to Fort Hood for the new facility.

U.S. Rep. John Carter, R-Round Rock, said in a statement last week that a new hospital was an "absolute must" for Fort Hood because Darnall wasn't capable of upgrading to modern standards because of size and infrastructure restrictions.

"Space is our biggest challenge," said Col. Casper P. Jones III, Darnall commander.

"We've built temporary buildings and put up trailers over the years to house various departments," he said. The main hospital cannot be further expanded. Repairs become more expensive over the years, to the point it is often less expensive to build than to repair or renovate. There comes a time when you cannot financially or physically make the building usable for today's healthcare needs."

The two-phase, nearly $1 billion hospital is scheduled to break ground in September 2010 and construction will go into 2019. The hospital will be located at the present site of Hood Stadium, Jones said Thursday. Funds are available in the project to relocate the stadium, he added.

U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Waco, represented Fort Hood in congress until 2004 and worked with past post commanders to get funding for a hospital. He and then-commander Lt. Gen. Thomas Metz created a public-private partnership to build a new facility, but "federal bureaucracy devoured this new approach," he said during a Thursday press conference in Washington, D.C.

"It became obvious to me then that the only way to get a new hospital at Fort Hood was to fund it directly in the federal military construction budget, and our challenge was that administrators would not put it in their budgets, even though military medical commanders knew a new hospital was needed," Edwards said.

When Carter took over the district containing Fort Hood, he continued the effort. Edwards credited Carter for pushing that the hospital be designated an Army medical center in 2006.

"This is the first major project I took on for Fort Hood when it became part of our district in 2005, and it is a real thrill to see it coming to fruition," Carter said.

Edwards worked to include $1 billion in the Iraq War Supplemental Appropriations bill for military hospitals last year. That money went to Fort Benning, Ga.; Fort Riley, Kan.; and Camp Lejeune, N.C. The Defense Department decided that the money from this stimulus bill would go to Fort Hood; Camp Pendleton, Calif.; and Naval Air Station, Jacksonville, Fla., Edwards said.

"Because of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, we are putting people to work across the country to get our economy back on track," President Barack Obama said Thursday in a White House release.

Jones said that leading the hospital at the start of a new era was "quite humbling." It means that soldiers and their families will be taken care of and much-needed improvements can be made to the availability of behavioral health care at Fort Hood, he added.

Edwards said the new facilities will mean soldiers have to make fewer trips to Brooke Army Medical Center, patients will have shorter waiting times and services will improve for soldiers' transitions into the Veterans Administration system and those in the largest Warrior Transition Brigade in the Army.

"This is the kind of critical investment we must make to support our brave soldiers and veterans who have sacrificed so much for us, and this is the sort of progress that can happen if we bring Democrats and Republicans together to focus on solving the challenges we face as a nation," Obama said.

Phase I of the new medical center is set to include a three-story clinic building and a three-story ancillary building, according to information from Carter's office. The Ancillary Building will house: radiology, pathology, a pharmacy, preoperative services and behavioral health departments.

The clinic building will house patient administrative services, primary care clinics, internal medicine, orthopedics and podiatry, physical medicine and a pain clinic, physical therapy, ophthalmology and a laser eye center, ear, nose and throat audiology and speech, oral maxillofacial surgery, occupational therapy and general surgery and urology.

Jones said that behavior health care would improve because those services would be under one roof.

"Our biggest need at the moment is a facility to house our behavioral health programs and the necessary professional and administrative staff," he said. "At the moment, these assets are scattered across Fort Hood, which is difficult for both patients and providers. With a center for behavioral health, we could provider better and more efficient services to soldiers and their families."

Phase II will include a five-story tower that will house logistics, nutrition care, the command group, special staff, the emergency department, the intensive care unit, the medical surgery unit, women's health, labor and delivery, the neonatal intensive care unit, the mother/baby unit, education and training, a medical library, a chapel and a psychiatric unit.

During Phase II construction, the present Darnall facilities will be used for inpatient, emergency room and mothers' health services, according to information from Edwards' office.

Contact Amanda Kim Stairrett at or (254) 501-7547.

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