Some area veterans worried by plans to make Kimbrough hospital a clinic

March 05, 1995|By Shirley Leung | Shirley Leung,Sun Staff Writer

Paul Baran devoted 40 years to the Army. In return, he expected to be taken care of. But now he says he feels the Department of Defense broke its pact with him when it recommended downgrading Fort Meade's Kimbrough Army Community Hospital to a clinic.

"It's taking something away that was promised to us a long time ago," said Mr. Baran, a 72-year-old retired Army major who fought in the Battle of the Bulge.

"I've done everything they've asked. I think this is a disaster. It'll hurt more people than saving a few dollars," he said.

Last week, the Pentagon recommended that the 36-bed general hospital be downgraded to a clinic as part of the latest round of efforts to reduce military facilities and save money. By making Kimbrough a clinic, the Army would trim 130 military and civilian jobs and save $50 million over 20 years, according to military documents.

As a clinic, the hospital would provide only outpatient services. Patients requiring overnight stays would be referred to other military hospitals in the area, such as Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington or the National Navy Medical Center in Bethesda, said Ben Smith, a spokesman for Walter Reed, which oversees Kimbrough.

And that worries thousands of retired and active military personnel who live nearby and fear they would be forced to drive to Washington for a full-service military hospital.

"What's happening is that the accountants are running our lives," said Alfred Shehab, a 75-year-old retired Army colonel.

Mr. Shehab has checked in to Kimbrough for two prostate operations, a hernia and pneumonia since 1960.

And he believes the doctors and nurses take care of him there.

"It's like a family hospital," he said. "I feel comfortable there."

Mr. Smith insisted that the quality of care would not suffer. "Patients' needs will be of the highest priority," he said.

Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest of the 1st District said he is asking the Army for more explanations "to determine if this is a necessary reduction."

"We're going to get more information to see if we can defend this until our last breath," he said.

Despite the loss of inpatient services at Kimbrough, Fort Meade could benefit from the base realignment process with the addition of about 550 military and civilian employees.

Two units of the Information Systems Software Command, which provides the Army with telecommunications and computer system networks, are to be moved from leased commercial space in Arlington, Va., to unoccupied military buildings on the post. The units have about 76 military and 234 civilian employees.

In addition, the Defense Investigative Service, which conducts security clearances, is scheduled to move its national computer center from Fort Holabird in Baltimore to Fort Meade by 1997.

Fort Meade shrank dramatically during the DOD's initial base realignment and closure process in 1988 when it had to get rid of nearly 9,000 acres of unused land near the Patuxent River.

Thus far the military base has given 8,100 acres to the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center. The 466-acre Tipton Army Airfield is to be turned over to Anne Arundel and Howard counties next October to be operated as a civilian airport.

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