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Can CARE Save Mt. Vernon Hospital?

Citizens, officials rally in support of saving medical facility.

A broad-based coalition of citizen activists, business representatives, medical doctors, community charity organizations, and state and local elected officials, came together Monday night under the banner Citizens Alliance Rescue Effort, (CARE), to save Inova Mount Vernon Hospital.

Formed at the urging of Mount Vernon District Supervisor Gerald W. Hyland, the group's 23 member Executive Committee held its initial organization and strategy meeting in the conference room of his Mount Vernon Government Center office. It will meet again on September 22.

During the four hour session Hyland said, "We talked about what we need to do to save this hospital. We strategized about what we need to do to develop to make the best case to keep this hospital here."

CARE consists of two parts, according to Hyland. First, it's an advisory committee consisting of the president or a delegate from the 13 citizens' associations in the Mount Vernon District, and second, it's a 23 member Executive Committee comprised of physicians, elected officials, healthcare experts, business leaders, and community representatives

"Our purpose is two-fold," said Hyland. "One is to bring community pressure to bear on Inova so that Mount Vernon hospital will remain in its present location with all services intact and enhanced by bringing in new services. And the other is to support and augment the work of Inova's Southeast Health Planning Task Force," he told the group.

IN ADDITION TO community leaders and healthcare providers, Hyland was joined in the elected official category by Lee District Supervisor Dana Kauffman, State Sen. Linda T. "Toddy" Puller (D-36), Delegate Kristen J. Amundson (D-44), and Providence District Supervisor Gerald E. Connolly.

Representatives of IMVH's Medical Executive Committee serving on the CARE Executive Committee include doctors Cleveland Francis, Stephen Goldberger, Howard Lando, Paul Luisada, Khosrow Matini, and Roger Wiederhorn.

"I believe Gerry has done an excellent job of getting key physicians and community leaders involved who recognize the value of this hospital to the community," Kauffman said. "This is a hospital that has served the community very well. And, it can do well again financially if given the resources it deserves."

In making his case to the group, Hyland declared, "The apparent intent of Inova officials is to relocate Mount Vernon hospital eight miles to the south." He then asked, rhetorically, "What are their reasons for wanting to close or relocate this hospital?"

Hyland gave two answers. "They say Mount Vernon is not profitable; and they say that Inova can best serve the future population of Southern Fairfax by re-locating to Lorton where the future population growth will take place. "

Hyland then quoted from a letter dated July 19 from IMVH Medical Executive Committee to Inova Health System leadership which stated, "Profitability can be achieved with the addition of new and financially-positive services that would supplement the existing service lines within the present hospital."

Hyland noted the doctors had made a series of recommendations to IHS to improve not only the hospital's bottom line but also health services at IMVH. Hyland sighted the following as examples of what the doctors recommended.

* Allow Mt. Vernon hospital to provide state-of-the-art services needed by the community. New services are now placed at other Inova facilities, forcing patients away from IMVH.

* Purchase new equipment and/or refurbish existing space.

* Change internal policies.

"What I was hearing from the doctors attending the meeting was that they are committed to making the hospital successful. They can see through the smoke and see its true value," Kauffman said. "We need more than nickel and dime solutions. We need long-term solutions."

Hyland said several policies needed to be changed by IHS, including having revenues from Mt. Vernon's outpatient Rehab go to Mt. Vernon, not to Inova's general fund; allowing Mt.Vernon to open its outpatient lab with "profits" going to Mt.Vernon's credit; and sending patients from the Mt. Vernon area to Mt. Vernon hospital for admission if they do not have a family physician."

HYLAND THEN OUTLINED a series of expanded services and new equipment needs to bring the hospital up to speed for the benefit of the community. Some of these included, expansion of obesity surgery, an expanded Wound Care Center, the purchase of new laser equipment for urological procedures that are now outsourced, and open a "Healthplex" in Lorton with referrals to Mt. Vernon.

The Committee also discussed a variety of actions that could be taken, some of which have been proposed, to better IMVH's bottom line. This included the potential to partner with the military in directing patients from Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Bethesda Naval Hospital, and DeWitt Army Hospital at Fort Belvoir.

These suggestion are directly tied to IMVH's recognized expertise in joint replacement and rehabilitation. The DeWitt plan would allow military retirees and their dependents to chose the facility they wished to use.

All of these options have been on the table since Spring. "At some point the parties need to come to grips with what can be done to solve the problem," Hyland said. "I still think IHS should state, in writing that they are committed to keeping Mount Vernon hospital in the Mount Vernon District."

In other actions to save Mt. Vernon Hospital, Hyland has scheduled a community-wide rally for October 4, prior to his annual Lobsterfest fund-raiser.