By Colleen Flaherty
Fort Hood Herald
Military and civilian officials gathered Monday at what used to be Prichard Stadium to rededicate the site for another purpose, that of a new, $534 million medical facility.
The project is one of the largest medical undertakings in the Defense Department's history. It is also the largest Defense Department contract financed with American Recovery and Reinvestment Act stimulus funds.
The new Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center will feature 60 percent more space than the current hospital, several outpatient clinics, and more than double the parking when it opens in 2015, speakers promised.
But the community will make it great, Darnall commander Col. Steven E. Braverman said.
"It's really about the outstanding medical staff that we have and the soldiers, families and retirees and their families in the local community at Fort Hood and the surrounding areas we serve."
Although construction won't begin until spring, the ground breaking ceremony was held early to honor departing U.S. Congressman Chet Edwards, of Texas' 17th District, who was unseated in the last election after 20 years.
Although redistricting removed Fort Hood from his purview six years ago, he said, it was never out of his mind or heart as he fought to get soldiers and their families the new medical center they deserved on the House Appropriations Committee.
Americans have a moral responsibility to respect the troops and their families "not just with their words, but with their deeds," he said, asking them to see the hospital as a sign of that respect.
Congressman John Carter, District 31, praised his colleague from across the aisle's involvement in securing funds for Darnall. After Fort Hood become part of his district, he said, it didn't take a "rocket scientist to find out where we needed to (invest)."
Lt. Gen. Eric Schoomaker, U.S. Army surgeon general and commander, U.S. Army Medical Command, agreed.
"In the private sector, with the dynamism of health care today, we average a turnover of a major medical facility like this on the order of every 21 to 24 years," he said. "In Army medicine over the last two to three decades, because of an inability to invest in our infrastructure, we have been reduced to turning over our hospitals on a 40 to 50 year cycle."
In 1965, the $12 million Darnall Army Community Hospital opened to serve about 17,000 troops. A $50 million renovation doubled its capacity in 1984.
The hospital was redesignated as Darnall Army Medical Center in 2006. Today it supports 45,000 active duty military personnel and 125,000 family members and retirees living within a 40-mile radius.
Since 2003, more than 4,200 wounded or ill soldiers evacuated from Iraq and Afghanistan have received treatment at Darnall. On an average day, seven babies are delivered at Darnall; more than 4,500 prescriptions are filled; 202 people visit the emergency room; and 4,622 outpatient encounters occur in addition to 26 surgeries and 26 admissions.
Service at the current Darnall hospital will remain uninterrupted for the duration of construction, a Darnall spokesperson said. Upon completion of construction, the old hospital will be turned over to III Corps for an alternate use.
Contact Colleen Flaherty at email@example.com or (254) 501-7559. Follow her on Twitter at KDHfeatures.