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Loudoun Healthcare, Inova Merge

$200 million merger will bring expanded services and locations to Loudoun County.

After years of courtship, Loudoun Healthcare and Inova Health System have tied the knot. The theme song for the $200 million merger of the non-profit hospital systems was John Lennon's "Imagine."

"I feel like I'm at a wedding," said Mark Lowers, chairman of the Loudoun Healthcare (LHC) board of directors. Then it was down to business: "This merger will dramatically and positively impact the availability and accessibility of quality healthcare in Loudoun County."

After years of collaborating — for example, Inova once purchased a 35-acre tract adjacent to LHC's Lansdowne campus and held it until LHC could afford to buy it — the two healthcare providers are joining forces to help end the tug-of-war going on between Loudoun's expanding population and its lack of comprehensive, in-county hospital services. Currently, 51 percent of the Loudoun population receives health care outside the county.

The merger, which was about six months in the making, according to LHC spokesman Tony Raker, will help complete a plan put forth by LHC earlier this year. In March, LHC proposed a comprehensive plan amendment (CPAM) that would add inpatient services at LHC's Cornwall facility in Leesburg as well as another hospital in the Dulles south area and health community centers in Lovettsville, Purcellville, Middleburg and the Dulles airport.

WHILE THE BOARD of Supervisors adopted LHC's proposed CPAM as its own, sending it to the Planning Commission for further review, with the merger, LHC has jumped ahead of the game.

"We believe there needs to be health centers in Middleburg, in Purcellville, in Lovettsville," said Rod Huebbers, president and CEO of LHC. "We're here to make the reality of what we believe that plan should be come true."

He added that the new vision for Loudoun "meets and exceeds" the plan outlined in the CPAM.

With the merger, vast improvements to Loudoun's creaky healthcare facilities will be made: not only will community health centers save residents the commute to Fairfax hospitals, the Lansdowne hospital alone will become the site of a state-of-the-art heart center as well as a cancer center. In addition, the emergency department, intensive care unit and Birthing Inn will be expanded and updated.

DESPITE THE MERGER, LHC will maintain its homegrown board of directors, comprised of Loudoun residents. Inova, too, is run by a community board of directors — another commonalty that made the merger an obvious choice, according to the directors themselves.

"We're going to make good partners and the citizens of Loudoun County will realize the benefits of that partnership," said John Toups, chairman of the Inova board of directors.

Lowers stressed that LHC had sought a partner that would "not take us over, but help us achieve our goals."

While Loudoun residents will get $200 million worth of healthcare improvements, Inova president and CEO J. Knox Singleton got a t-shirt that read "Imagination Becomes Reality."

Beyond that, what Inova gets out of the merger is not as concrete as four new community health centers. According to Inova spokeswoman Beth Visioli, Inova will have the opportunity to expand its research and education facilities into Loudoun, as well as draw on a new population to work in its hospitals.

"It's so important for us to cultivate new healthcare workers," Visioli said.

Inova, which was founded as the Fairfax Hospital Association in 1956, has five hospitals in Northern Virginia.

THE MERGER is another wrinkle in what has been something of a healthcare facilities saga in the last year. Nashville-based Hospital Corporation of America is in the process of establishing a 164-bed for-profit hospital in Broadlands, just five miles from Loudoun Hospital Center.

While the Broadlands Regional Medical Center (BRMC) did obtain the required Certificate of Public Need from the state health commissioner, it has received opposition from both the public and the Board of Supervisors, who object to its proximity to LHC. The 155-bed LHC objected as well, claiming that the competition would siphon away doctors and patients. Earlier this month, the Planning Commission recommended denying BRMC's special exception application, which is necessary for construction.

According to BRMC spokeswoman Megan Descutner, however, the hospital's position is stronger than ever.

"The acquisition of Loudoun Healthcare by Inova brings great services, but almost everything they're saying requires a COPN [Certificate of Public Need] and we're prepared with an approved COPN to put a shovel in the ground," Descutner said.

Earlier this year, LHC's application for a COPN to add 33 inpatient beds to the Cornwall facility in Leesburg was denied.

The too-much-competition-for-LHC argument also goes away with the merger, Descutner added, since Inova is the largest healthcare provider in Northern Virginia.