As of Tuesday night, the fate of Inova Mount Vernon Hospital may have taken a turn for the better, with a $1 million transfusion from the U.S. House of Representatives.
That was when the Defense Appropriations Bill passed, which included the money to initiate U.S. Rep. James P. Moran's (D-8th) proposal to utilize the facilities and expertise of the hospital in Orthopedics and Joint Replacement to benefit retired military veterans and their families.
Moran had the money included in the bill as a starting point to not only benefit the thousands of military veterans and retirees throughout the region but also serve as a training ground for both Navy and Army physicians from Walter Reed and Bethesda. It has cleared the first hurdle in the legislative process.
"We are now on a very positive track," said Daniel F. Drummond, communications director for Moran's office, after the bill passed. "Now its not a matter of if, for this money, but only when."
In announcing his proposal originally, Moran said, "Residents of the Mount Vernon area have come to rely upon Inova Mount Vernon ... particularly for specialties such as knee and other joint replacements. ... Closing this hospital would be a devastating loss for the Mount Vernon community."
Moran also sees a benefit to the physicians at both Walter Reed Army and Bethesda Naval hospitals by placing an emphasis on Inova Mount Vernon's expertise in orthopedics and joint replacement. That is in the area of research and education.
"We could have an exchange program to have joint replacement services provided at Inova Mount Vernon and training for military doctors," he explained. But the primary effort now is to get both parties, Inova Mount Vernon Hospital and the military, working together, according to Moran's office.
Although the original concept focused more on a relationship between the Bethesda Naval Hospital and Inova Mount Vernon Hospital, the emphasis seems to have shifted to a partnership with the Army's Walter Reed facility, Moran's staff pointed out.
As they explained, the present plan would be that initially the working relationship would be more with Walter Reed because there is more of a working history with the U.S. Army than with the Navy. This is due in part to proximity with Fort Belvoir.
LOOKING DOWN the road, Moran indicated, "I want to get this (the annual appropriation) up to about $10 million a year." But this would be dependent on an annual work plan and would have to pass the same congressional scrutiny each fiscal year, Moran's staff clarified.
"Ideally, we'd like to see this become a full-blown effort, but we still need the military to give final approval," his staff emphasized. Also, the Senate has to enact its version, and then it must be signed by the president.
As a complement to this effort, there are two other issues that impact the fate of Inova Mount Vernon Hospital. One, also being shepherded by Moran, is the shifting of military retiree and veteran general medical services from Fort Belvoir's DeWitt Army Hospital to Inova Mount Vernon. The other, being pushed by both Moran and U.S. Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-11th), working in concert with U.S. Sen. John Warner, R-Va., is an expedited solution to the closing of Woodlawn Road and Beulah Street across Fort Belvoir property.
The latter has been held out as "a primary cause" in the decline of patients utilizing Inova Mount Vernon Hospital, thereby, exacerbating its financial problems. These road closings were the focus of a Town Meeting in June, co-sponsored by Moran and Davis.
IN ORDER TO accomplish their dual purpose to find a solution to the road closures by the Army, Moran and Davis jointly included language in the FY '04 Military Construction spending bill that requires the secretary of the Army "to craft short- and long-term solutions to the traffic congestion caused by road closures in and around Fort Belvoir."
That bill passed the U.S. House of Representatives on June 26, just three days after the Town Meeting, by a vote of 428-0. The U.S. Senate has reported out the bill from committee, but there has been no floor action at this time.
During the Town Meeting, held at Hayfield Secondary School, citizens expressed their frustration with the road closing and tied that to their reluctance to utilize Inova Mount Vernon Hospital, particularly in an emergency situation. One speaker vowed to not use the hospital again due to the length of time it took him to get there.
In a joint news release dated June 27, "Both Moran and Davis noted that the aim of their language [in the legislation] is to have Fort Belvoir's master plan include innovative ways to ease the traffic congestion in and around the post caused primarily by the post 9/11 closures."
Moran and Davis stated, "There are several things we want to see as part of the plan, including better public transit access to the post and both short- and long-term solutions to the unbearable closure of Woodlawn and Beulah, which adversely impacts 40,000 drivers a day that once traveled the roads, but now must find alternative, out-of-the-way routes. We would like to see some creative thinking on the part of the Army."
MORAN SAID THE language in the legislation makes it clear that Congress wants the Army to be responsible neighbors. "Fort Belvoir has been a good citizen of the community for many years. After 9/11, though, relations have deteriorated, and the Army must do everything it can to repair those relations," he emphasized.
One suggestion both congressmen proposed is to open Woodlawn Road to traffic while the study and construction of a new road take place. "The directives in this language are a good first step toward improving traffic flow and quality of life for residents in the Fort Belvoir area," Davis emphasized.
"But they are only a first step. Congressman Moran, Sen. Warner and I are determined to do more as we move forward with this and other legislation," Davis said.
ONE OF THE OTHER suggestions to come out of the forum was the proposed formation of a citizen task force to work with federal officials, both military and civilian, to find a solution to the Woodlawn/Beulah puzzle. Suggested by Frank Cohn — vice chairman, Stakeholder Participation Panel, which achieved an equitable solution to the Mount Vernon Circle controversy — it was quickly embraced by Davis at the meeting.
Davis told the crowd, "We would like to get a small group to meet with the supervisors [Gerald Hyland and Dana Kauffman] and us [Davis and Moran] to move it up the line. This way we can get a much more rapid response."
That was on June 23. Thus far, such a task force has not been named, according to both congressional offices. At the meeting, Davis had projected a time frame of "the next couple of weeks" in hopes of getting "this solved very quickly."
David Marin, Davis' director of communications, stated, "What we need to do is look at the way we can best get the community and the Army to work together. We are looking at possible representatives of the community who might serve on such a task force."
AS FOR MORAN'S proposal that primary medical care for military veterans, retirees and their families be afforded at Inova Mount Vernon Hospital, as well as DeWitt, there has been no movement on that suggestion at this point, according to Moran's office.
In a letter dated June 4, to Department of Defense undersecretary for personnel and readiness, Dr. David Chu, Moran stated, "I propose ... that veterans, military retirees, and their spouses be allowed to access services at Inova Mount Vernon."
Moran noted in that letter that his district is home to 58,500 veterans and thousands of military retirees.
"One of the challenges ... is the ability to access their military health-care provider. More often than not the waiting rooms are filled, and patients must sometimes wait for hours to see a health-care provider," he explained to Chu in his letter. There has been no response thus far, Moran's office verified.
In tying the entire puzzle of Inova Mount Vernon Hospital's fiscal problems with the traffic congestion, heightened by the Woodlawn/Beulah situation and the need for better medical service for military veterans and retirees, both Moran and Davis are attempting to solve a conundrum.
Moran alluded to that in his letter to Dr. Chu.
"It is particularly fitting for the military to play a contributing role in Inova Mount Vernon's economic recovery, since the Army's closure of Woodlawn Road has contributed to its recent financial difficulty," he said.
However, the missing link, thus far, is the unspoken intentions of Inova Health Services with regard to the future of Inova Mount Vernon Hospital. As Dr. Khosrow Matini — a plastic surgeon at Inova Mount Vernon Hospital and former president of the hospital's medical staff, who serves on the Southeast Health Planning Task Force — inquired of Moran at the Town Meeting, "Why have you never heard from Inova about your proposal?"
The next meeting of the Task Force, whose job it is to assess and evaluate the viability of the hospital's future, is scheduled for July 10.