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Task Force Focuses on IMVH's Future

Health Planning Task Force keeps pressure on Inova.

Continued existence of the Southeast Health Planning Task Force proved its worth on Sept. 27 when it pressed for answers concerning improvements at Inova Mount Vernon Hospital and a date for the construction and opening of Inova Health System's Lorton healthplex. Neither was definitively answered by IHS representatives present.

Mount Vernon District Supervisor Gerald Hyland asked Inova Vice President H. Patrick Walters and IMVH Interim Administrator Arlen Reynolds for more specifics on the hospital's future. "Are we able to do what we would like to have done to guarantee this hospital's future?" and "What do you think we should be doing?" he asked.

"When I look at the programs I see a lot of forward momentum. There are things we need to improve," Reynolds said. Walters gave no direct answer.

Hyland then directed a question to the doctors present who serve on the Task Force, Cleveland Francis and Khosrow Matini. "Are you comfortable with where the hospital is going?" he asked.

"There are a number of programs we will be looking at. We are moving and it is getting better," Francis said.

Matini was less generous. A critic of IHS's approach to increasing IMVH's services to the citizenry of the area from the moment it was announced by Hyland at his Town Meeting that IMVH may be closed, Matini has pushed for more services and physical improvements to maintain the hospital as a full service element of southeastern Fairfax County's health provider community.

IN A MEMORANDUM to Anne Andrews, Task Force chair, prior to the meeting, Matini stated, "On June 4, 2003 Mr. Singleton (IHS President and CEO) told us the residents of the Southeast part of Fairfax County need a full service hospital ... I believe there is no plan for the expansion of Mount Vernon Hospital. Whatever they (IHS) have done are for outpatient services."

He went on to indicate that in his opinion IHS was playing a waiting game in the hopes that they could garner enough votes on the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors to gain approval to close IMVH and build a new hospital in the Lorton area.

"That was the original plan, to keep outpatient services at Mount Vernon and build a new hospital. They are probably waiting for another election of the Board of Supervisors, hoping to get enough votes for closure of the hospital," Matini stated.

It had been speculated that IHS would add two floors and "bump out" a new wing for a nuclear medicine department at IMVH as well as upgrade a number of diagnostic and treatment services. The estimated cost was $21 million for Phase I.

AS FOR THE ESTABLISHMENT of an IHS Lorton Healthplex, at an estimated cost of $15 million, which was an primary recommendation of the Task Force in its final report nearly two years ago, Walters said, "We have our plans in place."

He proceeded to explain, "We presented a three-phase plan to the County Planning Commission and it was approved. Those plans include emergency services, laboratories, an imaging room, provisions for outpatient surgery and medical offices. We hope to have the capital plans to the Board (IHS) by the end of the year."

It was also noted that there was the possibility of moving some surgical rooms from IMVH to the new healthplex when it comes into being. IMVH now has eight operating rooms. IHS is considering moving three of those to the healthplex, according to discussions.

IHS' healthplex plans call for the construction of a three-story, 100,000 square feet building "that can be seen from Interstate 95 going south," according to Walters. IHS has acquired a plot of land adjacent to the I-95 Lorton exit. "The healthplex is to be considered an extension of the hospital," Walters said.

Attending his first Task Force meeting, Reynolds, IMVH interim administrator while a nationwide search is underway to replace Susan Herbert who retired this past summer, is serving on a month-to-month contract, according to Walters. "You do have one of the finest facilities in America," Reynolds told the Task Force.

When asked for a financial status report on the hospital by Hyland, he stated the hospital "broke even" as of July 1. However, he warned, "We have an aging medical staff. We are attempting to recruit new doctors and we will be expanding our future facilities at Lorton."

ANOTHER CONCERN expressed by Task Force members and Hyland was the impact on health services by the anticipated 20,000 increase in personnel at Fort Belvoir due to recent recommendations by the Base Realignment and Closure Commission. This will be phased in over the next several years.

"This will double Belvoir's population. Only 1,000 to 5,000 of those 20,000 will be military personnel. The rest will be civilian. And, the dynamics will be even more with the addition of civilian contractors," Hyland told the group.

"Providing health care to all those people becomes very important. They still intend to replace DeWitt Hospital. But, they don't know where to put it," he said.

"They (Ft. Belvoir/U.S. Army) are going to have a large scale community hospital at Belvoir. But, I haven't been encouraged by my conversations with the Army that they would be willing to partner with us on a community hospital," Walters said.

"I asked the Army a series of questions about how BRAC would impact us when BRAC was first announced — questions like where people live now, what would be the impact on school populations, what about health needs? Nothing has been done. The survey they sent out was joke. It didn't ask any of the pertinent questions," Hyland said.

When Andrews asked Hyland about the highway and transportation needs to support this influx of people, Hyland stated that he had been "infuriated" by the recent announcement by Fort Belvoir that the Engineer Proving Grounds site anticipated for the extension of the Fairfax County Parkway was now to be "delayed for 900 days."

He stated that the Board of Supervisors has asked the Virginia Secretary of Transportation "to find an alternate route not involving the EPG." Hyland said, "This is totally ridiculous and unacceptable."

Another concern expressed by the Task Force was IHS's proposal to move all psychiatric care to Inova Fairfax Hospital. It was explained that this was being proposed as a convenience for the court and the fact that psychiatric units have been closing throughout the Greater Washington Metropolitan Area.

"Ninety percent of the psychiatrists practicing in the Washington area do not see patients in a hospital. Inova Alexandria Hospital was down to only one psychiatrist seeing patients at the hospital prior to the transfer of that unit to Mount Vernon Hospital," said Task Force member George Barker, Health Systems Agency of Northern Virginia.

Hyland and Task Force members urged Walters to reconsider any further actions to transferring IMVH's psychiatric unit. No formal action has been taken at this time, according to Walters.