After months of closed door meetings, The Lewin Group presented a short list of recommendations to the Southeast Health Planning Task Force.
At last week's meeting of the Task Force the final recommendations consisted several points. They included: actively monitor key developments over the next six months: applications for new for-profit hospitals; trends in Inova Mount Vernon Hospital [IMVH] volume and financial performance; actively pursue feasible new services for IMVH; DeWitt Hospital surgical services.
Otherr recommendations were to aggressively pursue medical staff development; work with the entire Southeast Fairfax County community during the upcoming planning process; and work with the Mount Vernon community to identify and consider conditions under which relocating IMVH would reduce or eliminate risk.
It is the latter point that has fueled the controversy between the Mount Vernon community and Inova Health System from the inception of the Task Force one year ago. The report is also unclear as to the definition of the word "risk." It is not clear if that applies to the community or Inova Health System.
According to Task Force member Jeffrey McKay, "We are on a short fuse to complete our study. The Inova Board of Trustees is meeting in February and they want our report prior to that."
To accomplish that, three meetings of the Task Force have been scheduled for January 8, 15, and 22. The final Task Force report is to be released no later than the January 22 meeting.
Even though the Task Force has not engaged in any substantive decision-making up to now, according to its newly elected Co-
Chairman, Anne Andrews, the meetings have remained closed. Andrews acknowledged this was based on, "We feel it facilitates discussion" and "There was a certain amount of posturing by some members when the press was present."
However, the issuance of the shortl ist recommendations only solidified the suspicions of Herbert E. Harris, II, another Task Force member and strong critic of Inova Health System's management of the group's work. "It looked very much like a report that was dictated or approved by Inova. It did not reflect the desires of the community."
Harris said, "It ignored a variety of elements such as the transportation issues and continued to assume a new hospital at another location. I've done a thorough review of the report and I found it totally inadequate as for community needs."
Harris said, "I think they've [IHS] already made their decision to build a new hospital and wanted this task force to merely rubber stamp that decision and are disappointed they didn't get that rubber stamp.
"Now they're very frustrated to have a task force of independent, intelligent thinkers. I would hope that we hold a press conference to release our report before it goes to Inova Health System."
BUT MCKAY FELT that there will be nothing to report to the press until after the second meeting in January. "The first January meeting will continue to be closed," he said. "We'll have to decide on the last two."
Frederick W. Sacks, Jr., the Task Force's newly appointed chairman, had previously indicated that when the group's work is complete a report will be issued to the public. "However, how this is accomplished, including the involvement of the press, is something we will have to decide," he said.
There was some good news issued at the December meeting. The last quarter financial statements indicated a "nominal" improvement in the hospital's fiscal health, according to McKay. As a result, the projected fiscal deficit for 2003 has been trimmed by $2 million, from $10 million to $8 million, the Task Force was informed.
This was somewhat in contrast to the report presented by the Lewin Group at the November meeting. At that time they stated that although improvements in services and operations may improve the hospital's financial health in its present location "it will be very difficult to have IMVH return to a profitable financial position in its current location."
At that meeting the task force was informed by the Lewin Group that a relocated hospital "is likely to break even" or even show modest financial gain while continued losses at the present location would be "difficult for IHS to sustain."
IT WAS IN THAT report that the word "risk" gained some clarity as to whether it applied to the Mount Vernon community or IHS. In addressing the potential of a new for-profit hospital being built in the Springfield vicinity, the report noted that would financially damage both IHS and IMVH.
It was noted that relocating the services and operations of IMVH to a new location "would significantly reduce this risk." However, it also pointed out that such a relocation would work to the disadvantage of certain patients with limited transportation options — specifically the elderly and low income.
Opposition to relocating the present hospital has been the driving force behind a group of residents and medical staff who have insisted that IHS is planning to relocate the hospital primarily to stifle any potential competition from a new for-profit facility. Known as CARE, Citizens Alliance Rescue Effort, they have vowed to fight any attempt to move or lessen the services at IMVH.