After more than 13 months of deliberation and evaluation, the Southeast Healthcare Planning Task Force is on the brink of issuing its report concerning the future of Inova Mount Vernon Hospital. That is scheduled to happen March 1.
At its Feb. 19, meeting, co-chairman Anne Andrews announced there would be no vote on two proposed positions of the so-called citizen task force. Rather, a draft proposal subgroup would meet at her house Feb. 24, to prepared position papers to be voted upon by the full task force, according to task force member Herbert E. Harris II.
"We actually had a couple of drafts in front of us that night [February 19]. One came very close to being constructive," Harris said. "There were a couple of points that needed work. But I sense there is a movement within the group to save the hospital."
This assessment was backed by task force member former State Senator Joseph V. Gartlan, Jr. "We made some progress. I think we are pretty close to getting an agreement," he said. "The small drafting group is to do the wordsmithing."
All task force meetings have been closed to the public and press since early 2003. However, March 1, following a vote on the proposed report, the word is that the meeting will be opened, the report released, followed by a press conference.
"Unfortunately, most of the group made it clear they still want the vote on the report to be by secret ballot," Harris confirmed. "I tried to get it to be an open vote, but lost again."
The change to a more positive atmosphere within the group was verified by one of the strongest critics of Inova Health System's approach to the IMVH evaluation process. Dr. Khosrow Matini said, "The meeting went very well."
He confirmed, "We will meet at Anne's house on the 24th to develop a final draft which will be brought back to the full task force for a vote on March 1. Now, we have to have a decision after all these months of talk."
However, Matini insisted, "If Inova wants to do anything to save Mount Vernon hospital, it has to be a full service hospital. But if they intend to build a new hospital in two years in the Lorton area they should not invest $100 million here."
There was also discussion about Fairfax County providing land in the Lorton area for Inova Health System to put a healthplex in that area tied to IMVH. The suggestion has been made for the county to make space available in the Laurel Hill area, the new development at the former Lorton Prison site.
MOUNT VERNON District Supervisor Gerald Hyland, now a member of the IHS Board of Directors, envisioned such an arrangement as being structured the same as the county's present arrangement with IHS for IMVH and Inova Fairfax Hospital. The land at both sites is leased to IHS for $10 per year.
"Although the majority at the Feb. 19, meeting voted to have the March 1 vote on the final report be by secret ballot it was agreed that everyone would be able to vote in person or by proxy," Matini verified. At the Feb. 5, meeting Matini's proxy vote was not recorded even though he had authorized Andrews to cast it due to his absence for professional reasons.
The task force was presented with two proposals during the early February meeting. One drafted by McKay proposed IMVH be maintained at its present location with increased services and that a healthplex facility, under IMVH control, be established in the Lorton area.
The other draft, prepared by Pat Walters of IHS, presented two options: 1. That IHS "proceed deliberately to develop a new ... expanded service hospital facility at a location more central to the citizens of southeast Fairfax County; or 2. IHS maintain IMVH at its current location and further develop IMVH as the provider of hospital service for southeastern Fairfax County" until such time as a new hospital was considered mandatory.
After a secret ballot vote was taken on the two proposals there was an 8-8 deadlock. This brought forth a rebuke by Harris stating, "I believe the vote was a strategic ploy on the part of Inova to avoid a final report."
FOLLOWING NEWS reports of that session, Susan Herbert, IMVH administrator, sent a letter dated Feb. 17, to taff, physicians and volunteers. It said that press reports "contained mis-information" and she stated her desire to share the events of the meeting in which she participated.
Herbert addressed the meeting of Feb. 3, held at task force co-chairman Anne Andrews' house. Herbert wrote, "The working committee developed two options to present to the task force. The objective was to get a sense of the position of the task force regarding the options."
She then outlined the two options. Both were the options developed by Walters espousing IHS's options. Herbert made no mention in her letter of the counter-proposal submitted by McKay.
She also stated, "After due consideration of the options, it was agreed that a vote would be taken by secret ballot."
Herbert took exception to the quoted statement that appeared in the Gazette, which said, "We didn't even get a chance to actually see the final tally — and counting the ballots were Inova representatives."
Yet, in her letter to staff, Herbert identified the ballot counters as Pam Burns, IMVH administration, and Beth Visioli, media relations for IHS. Herbert defended their participation, saying, "they sit in the room in sight of all task force members" and "no task force member asked if they could see the ballots."
Finally, Herbert challenged the press statement concerning the charge of a "strategic ploy." She blamed the lack of a report on the task force itself, writing, "Inova expected that the task force have their report prepared by early February. Task force members said that wasn't enough time for them to complete their report. In response, Inova agreed to afford the task force additional time ..."
IHS had hoped the task force report would be ready by IHS's early February board meeting. However, as reported, IHS's meeting was postponed until March, thereby, allowing the task force additional time.