The renowned Walter Reed Army Medical Center in the Washington, D.C., area is closing its doors after more than one hundred years of service to the nation’s wounded military. The American Red Cross has played a part in that rich history.
Care provided at Walter Reed will now move to the new Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. and Fort Belvoir Community Hospital in the Alexandria, Va. area as part of the military’s Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) plans.
Throughout the 102 years of Walter Reed’s history, American Red Cross volunteers have been present at the hospital, serving the wounded warriors who have passed through its doors. Today more than 250 Red Cross volunteers continue to serve and will continue to do so in the new facilities.
As patients and personnel make the transition to the new facilities in Maryland and Virginia, the Red Cross will move its program to the facilities in Bethesda and at Fort Belvoir. Red Cross workers will continue to provide support, comfort and peace of mind to wounded warriors, active duty, reserve, retirees and family members recovering from injury or illness.
“Walter Reed National Military Medical Center at Bethesda and Fort Belvoir Community Hospital provide world class medical care for service members and their families and our volunteers will continue our relationship within the medical facilities to ensure all patient and family needs are met,” said Robert Lowery, Red Cross station manager. “While our existing programs will continue, our volunteers are eager to identify new programs and services to support an expanding outpatient and inpatient population at both locations.”
The original Red Cross building on the Walter Reed grounds was built in 1927, headquarters of the Gray Ladies, Red Cross volunteers who got their name from the gray aprons they wore over their dresses. Patients at Walter Reed began calling them Gray Ladies and the name stuck.
Over the years the Gray Ladies hosted tea parties and picnics in the Rose Garden at Walter Reed and held holiday gatherings in the wards for those who could not leave their beds. They survived into the 1960s, until the name was dropped in favor of the more general term Red Cross volunteer.
Today, volunteers visit throughout the hospital and deliver items such as toiletries, items of clothing, quilts, blankets, phone cards, books, magazines, DVDs, computer games and snack items for patients and their family members.
Red Cross volunteer teams meet each incoming MedEvac bus, providing information, comfort items and food for the patients and their families. Each patient receives a backpack containing water, snacks, toiletries, writing pad, pens, blanket, occasional cards, phone cards, Services to the Armed Forces brochure and office business card. In addition, volunteers follow up with family members throughout the week after the patient arrives.
Volunteers establish a relationship with the patient and their family, helping them with their immediate needs and what they may need in the future. When the patient is unaccompanied by family, Red Cross volunteers are available to help ensure the patient’s needs are met.
Contract and volunteer artists offer art, music and storytelling therapies to patients, families and staff on the wounded warrior ward. In the last year, 485 patients suffering from traumatic brain injuries and post traumatic stress disorders have taken part in the arts and crafts projects.
Computer game consoles are delivered to patients with multi-trauma injuries as part of their physical therapy plan to help strengthen their motor skills, and help with pain management and morale.
Other Red Cross programs include providing a room for families to relax, complete with snacks and beverages. Red Cross offers a pet therapy program that brings pet owners and their animals to the bedside of military patients. The Red Cross is the point of contact for service members and their families and delivers emergency messages to military authorities. They provide referrals to military aid societies and community agencies able to assist patients and their families. Taxi service is available for emergency transportation for patients discharged with no way to get home.