The battle for beds

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Print this page by Robert Burke

A turf battle between two of Virginia’s major hospital groups is heading to a Loudoun County courthouse.

In February, the Board of Supervisors voted 5-4 against HCA Virginia’s plans for a 164-bed hospital in the county’s Broadlands area. Nobody argues against the need for more hospital beds in Loudoun, but opponents of the HCA project say it’s too close (five miles) to the existing 183-bed Inova Loudoun Hospital.

Supporters, however, argue that the real issue is the desire of Falls Church-based Inova Health Systems to drive away competition. Inova has been a major opponent of the proposed hospital, saying that it would decrease the quality of health care.

After the vote, HCA sued the county saying that it exceeded its authority in rejecting its project. Company spokesman Mark Foust says the hospital “is needed, and it’s needed at that location.”
Under Virginia law, the state health commissioner must approve health-care facilities such as hospitals. The HCA project was approved in 2004. Foust says that means the state endorses the need for the hospital and its location. “We believe that a local government may not pre-empt what the state legislation has authorized,” he says.

But the project has seen several reversals. The previous health commissioner turned down HCA’s proposal in 2003, saying it would hurt the operations of the Inova hospital. Loudoun’s supervisors had also rejected the HCA project in 2005. HCA sued the county. It withdrew the lawsuit and made a second attempt to win approval after elections changed the makeup of the board.

One of the new supervisors, Andrea McGimsey, voted for the HCA project. “In the end, for me, it came down to choice and competition,” she says. “I do believe that competition produces better care.” Loudoun County Attorney Jack Roberts did not respond to a request for an interview.

After the HCA project was rejected again, Inova announced plans to open an 80-bed hospital on U.S. 50 in eastern Loudoun. HCA, on the other hand, said it would accelerate plans to expand its 187-bed Reston Hospital Center in Fairfax County.

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