The countywide health-care facilities plan is one step closer to reality.
On Dec. 12, after six months of workshops and meetings with the public and stake holders, the Planning Commission voted to forward the plan to the Board of Supervisors with a recommendation of approval.
Planning Commission chairman Larry Beerman (Dulles) recused himself from the discussion and vote, since he is a member of Loudoun Healthcare's board of directors. Loudoun Healthcare first proposed the plan as a comprehensive plan amendment early this year; the county adopted it as its own amendment soon thereafter.
Absent from the proceedings were three other commissioners: Christeen Tolle (At large), John Herbert (Catoctin) and Suzanne Volpe (Sugarland Run). Added with Beerman's abstention, the plan passed 5-0-4.
THE PLAN was first proposed by Loudoun Healthcare in response to the county's need for accessible health care. Just over half, or 51 percent, of Loudoun residents receive health care outside the county, since the only facilities available here are the 155 beds at Loudoun Hospital Center in Lansdowne and the outpatient emergency service at Loudoun Healthcare's Cornwall Street facility in Leesburg.
The current comprehensive plan does not address health-care facilities.
The public hearing before the commission's vote was more of a formality than anything else; only one speaker questioned the plan's validity, and that was Bryan Dearing, chief executive officer of Broadlands Regional Medical Center.
While Loudoun Healthcare has provided a detailed description of potential future sites for facilities Ñ community health centers in towns like Lovettsville, inpatient beds at Cornwall, a second full hospital in the Dulles South area Ñ it has not mentioned the proposed Broadlands Regional Medical Center.
The center, owned by the for-profit Hospital Corporation of America, is seeking a rezoning permit from the county to build a 164-bed hospital in Broadlands. Loudoun Healthcare has claimed having a hospital that large and close Ñ five miles Ñ to its Lansdowne campus would harm the smaller, nonprofit hospital.
So when Loudoun Healthcare proposed the health-care facilities plan, Broadlands Regional Medical Center was, and still is, excluded from the county's amendment.
"We believe that permitting market forces to drive the development of health-care facilities represents the most appropriate approach government can take to meeting the needs of its citizens," Dearing said.
Dearing wasn't alone in questioning the plan. Purcellville Mayor William T. Druhan Jr. supported new facilities but wondered about the timing of the plan, saying the county was "10 to 15 years behind" in its health care planning.
"The process is broken," Druhan said. "It's going to take about five years ... for a facility to be on line."
BUT OTHER SPEAKERS complimented the Planning Commission's months of work on the amendment. Leesburg lawyer Randy Minchew had good news about the possibility of making new facilities a reality: since January 2004, counties have had the power to weigh in on the certificate of public need process.
A certificate of public need, approved by the state health commissioner, is required for new hospital facilities. The Broadlands Regional Medical Center has one; the proposed community health centers, inpatient beds at Cornwall and second hospital in Dulles south, all touted by Loudoun Healthcare as the future of the county, don't have certificates yet.
"Every [certificate] application from now on will come back to Loudoun County for comment," Minchew said.
Loudoun Hospital Center chief of staff Dr. Kevin O'Connor downplayed the competition angle of the Broadlands vs. Loudoun Healthcare debate.
"Being for this amendment is not anti-hospital or pro another hospital," O'Connor said. "Being for this amendment is pro-Loudoun citizen."
The competition angle overall is one that Loudoun Healthcare has crowed since it merged with Inova Health Systems, the largest health-care provider in Northern Virginia, in October, something that Dearing did not fail to notice in his comments.
"One need only look at the proposed merger ... for evidence that business executives do not stand idly by when there is demand for additional services and market share to be gained, particularly if those executives believe they can thwart direct competition in the process," Dearing said.
The Board of Supervisors will hold an additional public hearing on the health-care facilities comprehensive plan amendment next year. A public hearing on the Broadlands Regional Medical Center rezoning application will also take place early next year. For more information on the amendment, visit www.loudoun.gov/compplan/healthcare.htm.