Judge Hears Hospital Appeal

Judge Hears Hospital Appeal

Loudoun Healthcare charges that state health commissioner's decision to issue certificate of public need for Broadlands hospital was "arbitrary and capricious."

In February 2003, Virginia Health Commissioner Robert Stroube called the proposed Broadlands Regional Medical Center a "threat" to Loudoun Healthcare, adding that it offered "little or no benefit in terms of improving geographic or financial accessibility" of health care to Loudoun residents. Stroube denied a certificate of public need (COPN) for the hospital.

A year later, Stroube granted the Broadlands COPN, essentially reversing all his previous criticisms in his approval.

It smelled funny to Loudoun Healthcare, which quickly filed an appeal against Stroube's decision. On Nov. 12, a Richmond judge heard Loudoun Healthcare's appeal at the Loudoun County Courthouse.

Loudoun Healthcare's attorney, Mark Headberg, charged that the commissioner's reversal was "arbitrary and capricious."

Loudoun Healthcare has argued in the past that a nearby hospital - the 164-bed Broadlands site would be just four miles away - would present insurmountable competition to the 155-bed non-profit Loudoun Hospital Center. Stroube agreed in his 2003 denial of Broadlands' application.

In addition, Headberg presented two emails as proof that the commissioner was viewing new evidence after the record closed. The emails in question include comments by the commissioner that he would take the writers' concerns into consideration. Headberg said the emails had only recently come to light and were written months after the official record on the COPN had closed.

"Frankly, it's outrageous," Headberg said.

AFTER THE ORIGINAL denial, Broadlands staff went about reconfiguring the hospital in response to the commissioner's criticisms. The hospital itself is actually a relocation of beds: Hospital Corporation of America, the parent company of the Broadlands site and 191 other inpatient hospitals, wants to close Dominion Hospital, a 30-year-old psychiatric facility in Falls Church.

"We looked at all the reasons he said no," said Megan Descutner, spokesperson for Broadlands Regional Medical Center. One conclusion was to reduce the number of beds from 180 to 164. "He clearly told us to do that."

As for Loudoun Healthcare's other charge — that the commissioner was responding to emails on the COPN after the record was closed — Matthew Cobb, an assistant Attorney General representing Stroube, dismissed the allegation.

"It was a polite and perfunctory response," Cobb said. He also asserted that Loudoun Healthcare would have to prove that a positive result for Broadlands wouldn't be reached in the absence of those emails. Lastly, he noted that the commissioner's error must be "substantial" in order require reversal by a judge, something that, Cobb said, could not be proven.

Circuit Court Judge Theodore Markow heard the appeal and said he'd arrive at a decision "soon."

Loudoun Healthcare spokesman Tony Raker interpreted the judge's comment as meaning a decision would be made within three to six weeks.