Hospital employees lose parking at Bethesda facility

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Local,Maryland,Transportation,Ben Giles
Employees at the expanded Bethesda medical center say there's not enough parking available at the military hospital for some employees who must drive themselves to work, a detriment to the hundreds of thousands of patients the hospital treats each year.

With only one space for every four employees at the new Walter Reed Military Medical Center, the hospital's support staff was forgotten in the facility's parking plans, according to officials at the American Federation of Government Employees.

AFGE officials says the medical center's parking policy, which gave permits to physicians, nurses and private health care practitioners, failed to address support staff.

Housekeepers, ambulance drivers and medical technicians are among those without parking spaces since the command staff took away first-come, first-serve parking. With fewer than 3,000 parking spaces available, thousands of employees must find another way to the hospital.

"Everybody needs to be able to get to work. It doesn't matter who they are or what they do," said Dwight Bowman, a local AFGE leader.

Workers are encouraged to take new routes to the hospital, such as the nearby Medical Center Metro station, located on the National Institutes of Health campus across the street.

But some must arrive at the hospital at odd hours, such as a medical technician that clocks in at 5 a.m. After driving to Bethesda for years, the technician had his parking space revoked. Metro isn't option that early in the morning -- trains don't run until 5 a.m. on weekdays -- so a family member has been driving him to work, according to union spokeswoman Darlene Desjardins.

More than 2,500 new employees were transferred to Bethesda as a part of the Defense Department's Base Realignment and Closure plan, commonly known as BRAC.

Hospital officials say they're constantly monitoring the parking situation at Bethesda and will make adjustments as they deem necessary.

Officials are looking to lease about 500 parking spaces within 15 to 20 minutes of the hospital, and would provide a shuttle to transport workers back and forth, according to spokeswoman Sandy Dean.

Northern Virginia politicians also have criticized the Defense Department for the BRAC move to Alexandria, where more than 5,000 federal workers will be transferred to the Mark Center by the end of the year.

Officials there say that too much parking at the Mark Center will cause gridlock on nearby roads such as Seminary Road and Interstate 395.

Montgomery County transportation officials are working with the Maryland State Highway Administration to apply for about $100 million from a $300 million pot of funds recently made available by Congress for projects around BRAC-affected military hospitals. Virginia officials are also vying for the funds to make traffic improvements near the new Fort Belvoir Community Hospital.

Applications for the funds are due by Friday.

bgiles@washingtonexaminer.com

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Ben Giles

Staff Writer - Crime Beat
The Washington Examiner