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Health Care Expands

New medical center unveiled; officials list improvements at Inova Mount Vernon Hospital.

After nearly two years of urging Inova Health System to establish a HealthPlex in the Lorton area to strengthen the viability of Inova Mount Vernon Hospital, the Southeast Health Planning Task Force got its wish. But, it didn't come from Inova.

During last Thursday's Task Force meeting at the South County Government Center, Dr. Albert Herrera and Dr. Stephanie Carter unveiled a plan for a group of doctors to establish a full service medical center at the new Lorton Town Center complex. They hope to have it fully operational by the end of 2005.

A presentation was made to the Task Force by the two physicians at the request of Mount Vernon District Supervisor Gerald "Gerry" Hyland. "All the doctors they have reached out to are from the Mount Vernon area. I have invited them to this meeting to tell you (the Task Force) what they are trying to do in the Lorton area," Hyland said.

"What Inova recognized as a need was right. These doctors have moved on that need. And they have indicated to me Inova has been aware of their plans," Hyland said.

Pat Walters, IHS senior vice president, said, "They did approach us and said they planned to build a medical building near the Lorton VRE station. We have encouraged them. We feel they'll be very successful."

Ann Andrews, Task Force chair, asked Walters how this would impact plans for an Inova HealthPlex in the Lorton area. He did not answer the question directly, saying only they [IHS] are "not familiar with what they [the doctors] want to put down there."

Hyland responded with, "It's a broad range of services. They have approximately 45,000 square feet they hope to fill with physicians with a variety of specialties."

DURING HIS PRESENTATION to the Task Force, Herrera said, "All my professional life has been at Mount Vernon Hospital. But, the Lorton/Laurel Hill area south of here is fast growing with no doctors.

"We recently opened a new office in Gunston Plaza and we have been averaging 25 to 30 patients per day. We have purchased three acres of land in the new Lorton Town Center and will start building in December," Herrera said.

Herrera and Carter are part of a practice known as Mount Vernon Internal Medicine with offices in Gunston Plaza and at 8109 Hinson Farm Road. Established in 1976 there are approximately 11 physicians in the practice.

The new facility will offer medical specialties in internal medicine, OBGYN, pediatrics and radiology, according to Herrera's presentation to the Task Force. When asked why it was being referred to as a medical center, Herrera said, "HealthPlex is just a name. We chose to call it a medical center instead."

Known as the Lorton Station Medical Center, it will be housed in two buildings in the Lorton Station Town Center complex near the VRE station. One building will be approximately 29,000 square feet and the other 16,000 square feet.

DURING THE REGULAR portion of the meeting, Susan Herbert, IHS vice president and IMVH administrator, outlined improvements at IMVH since the last Task Force meeting. They included:

* Plans to purchase new radiology equipment and upgrade existing technology. Over the next three years IHS is dedicating "almost $9 million" to this project, according to Herbert. These new technologies will bring IMVH closer to a long-term goal of creating a paperless patient tracking and information system, IHS has indicated.

* The acquisition of a new Computed Tomography [CT] scanner. New state-of-the-art ultrasound equipment will allow IMVH to offer patients faster testing and improved clinical diagnosis.

* Additional funding will be dedicated to purchase Computed Radiography enabling IMVH to retain digital images. This services allows radiologists to view images from a variety of locations, according to IHS. It also provides picture archiving.

* The Wound Healing Center expansion is in phase two of planning. Construction is scheduled for the fourth quarter of 2004. The Center continues to exceed the 80 percent national standard for healing with a continuous healing rate of 91 percent.

* IMVH was rated one of the best in the nation in joint replacement. In collaboration with Inova's orthopedic surgeons a minimally invasive hip surgery program has been developed.

* IMVH has upgraded its cardiac monitoring system with new equipment from GE.

HOWEVER, with all these improvements Herbert said the hospital is still operating at a loss. "The projected loss for this year is approximately five and one half million, down from the anticipated $7 million. Through August there were 188 cases less in surgery than the year before," Herbert said.

An ongoing irritant to the Task Force is the fact that IHS has not formally responded to their report and recommendations. IHS has only acknowledged receipt of the report.

As a result of that, Louise Cleveland, a member of the Task Force and chair, The Mount Vernon Council of Citizen's Associations, Committee for Health and Human Services, circulated a letter sent to Knox Singleton, IHS president and CEO, and others on Aug. 26 expressing support for the Task Force report and "especially its four-point recommendation."

It stated, "We urge that Inova, through its Boards and Trustees, act publicly, and in a timely manner, to demonstrate Inova's commitment to plan and invest in the future of the Hospital as a foundation for our future health care delivery in Southeast Fairfax County."

MVCCA asked that the letter and their resolution supporting the Task Force and IMVH be distributed "to each member of the Board of Trustees and the Health Care Services Board." It suggested responses from all IHS board members to MVCCA.

Former state Sen. Joseph Gartlan, an original member of the Task Force, asked Walters if IHS "ever intended to respond to the Task Force report." Walters said, "I think our actions speak for themselves," referring to all the investment made in IMVH as covered in Herbert's report.

"We think IMVH is one of our best physical plants. If that isn't our actions speaking, I don't know what is. We are evaluating our emergency services in the area. We will be able to answer that by the end of the year when the budget is approved with recommendations," Walters said.

"We don't have all the capital to do what we want to do. We have cut our losses (at IMVH). But, we are still losing $5 million to $6 million per year," he said.

Gartlan said, "None of those things address what precipitated the establishment of this Task Force in the first place. That was to address the problem of the establishment of another hospital in the area." Walters made no response.