New Wing Completed at Naval Hospital Beaufort

Communities that house military bases all over the country are on pins and needles this week, wondering whether their base will be on the next round of base realignment and closure (BRAC).

On May 16, secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld will submit a list of bases that the Pentagon is recommending for closure.

Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) says he feels confident the Georgia's military installations will survive the cuts.

And in Beaufort, South Carolina, the Military Enhancement Committee (MEC) has been working hard to keep all Beaufort's Tri-Command off that list.

But even though this news is looming, it hasn't stopped Naval Hospital Beaufort from upgrading its facilities.

No one really know whether these upgrades have anything to do with BRAC until Rumsfeld releases that list, but hospital officials say it's a renovation that's been needed for years. The ribbon cutting on this new wing has been a long time coming.

"In a 1949 vintage building, it was getting old and we couldn't do some of the things that the community could offer today, and I think we wanted to provide that and have the kind of resources to provide the best care we can," said Capt. Jim Hoffower (ret.), the hospital's former CO.

Although these renovations on the fifth floor won't accommodate more patients, hospital officials say they will improve the quality of service military families receive and give them the medical care they deserve.

"The one greatest advantage is the private rooms with private bathrooms," said Lt. Cmdr. Terry Kinsey. "In the past, they had a room they shared with another individual and a bathroom they shared with another room."

But here's the question everyone wants to have answered: will this $4.5 million renovation have any impact on whether Naval Hospital Beaufort survives BRAC?

"I wish I could say it would," MEC chairman John Payne said. "But I really don't think it will. I have seen instillations where projects were being completed when instillations were being closed down around it, so I don't think it is in any way related."

The new wing is expected to open to the public on May 19, less than a week after Rumsfeld is expected to release the BRAC list.

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Reported by: Jaime Dailey, jdailey@wtoc.com