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Hospital Merger Touted as Remedy for Shortfall in Services

By Bill Brubaker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 10, 2005; Page VA12

You just stepped off a transatlantic flight at Dulles International Airport, and you're feeling downright sick. Stomach pain. Nausea. Has to be that dinner last night in Frankfurt, you figure.

You ask in the baggage claim area for directions to the airport health clinic, and you are told, ah, there is none. Firefighters certified as emergency medical technicians can be dispatched to treat you, but the nearest clinic or hospital is miles away.

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Airports Special Report

Hard to believe that the international gateway to the nation's capital, which handled 22.9 million passengers last year, doesn't have a clinic?

Soon that may change.

As part of the planned merger between the Fairfax County-based Inova Health Systems and Leesburg-based Loudoun Healthcare Inc., negotiations are underway with the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority to establish a health services center at Dulles.

"They didn't have any space to put a clinic, so I suggested we have a mobile health van that would have two exam rooms, a small lab and the whole nine yards," Rodney N. Huebbers, Loudoun Healthcare's chief executive, said in a recent interview. "They said, 'Yeah, we can make that work,' and we have identified the location -- on the day [parking] lot, right outside one of the entryways. And we have two different corporations willing to sponsor it."

Huebbers outlined how the merger of the two nonprofits would benefit Northern Virginia residents by expanding Loudoun Healthcare's reach and pumping $200 million into health-related projects over the next five years.

In addition to expanding existing facilities and building new ones, Huebbers said, the merger would allow Loudoun Healthcare to refinance $80 million in long-term debt at lower interest rates because Inova has a stronger credit rating on Wall Street.

"That means a $3 million-plus savings to Loudoun [Healthcare] in principal and interest because of the reduced interest rate," he said. "That money will just get plowed back into programs for the community," such as a clinic at Dulles Airport.

Inova owns five hospitals in the region: Inova Alexandria, Inova Fairfax, Inova Fair Oaks, Inova Mount Vernon and Inova Fairfax Hospital for Children.

Loudoun Healthcare's facilities include Loudoun Hospital Center, Loudoun Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, Leesburg Emergency Department and Behavioral Health Services.

The merger comes as Nashville-based HCA Corp. is seeking to build a hospital in eastern Loudoun just five miles from Loudoun Hospital's Lansdowne campus. Loudoun Healthcare has opposed the Broadlands Regional Medical Center project, predicting that competition would drive up health care costs for consumers. HCA contends that Loudoun, the fastest-growing county in the United States, can support two hospitals.

According to Huebbers, the merger would finance such projects on the Loudoun Hospital campus as additional parking lots, a children's hospital and heart and cancer centers -- all within the next three years.

Loudoun residents "who need an angioplasty or stent or have a serious heart disease now have to go to either Inova Fairfax or Washington Hospital Center" in the District, Huebbers said. "But now those services are going to be available here in Loudoun County with our heart center. We won't be doing open heart surgery. But if you're having a heart attack . . . you don't have to worry about having to travel 25 miles to Inova Fairfax. So what we are doing is importing that level of expertise and medical quality into our community."

Huebbers said other benefits of the merger would include an expansion of Loudoun Healthcare's Cornwall Street campus in Leesburg (a medical education center is on the drawing board), a new health center in the Dulles South/Route 50 corridor and the development of primary care centers in Middleburg, Lovettsville and Purcellville.

Returning to the proposed Dulles clinic, Huebbers said: "You might have a traveler who is coming off a plane or changing planes and has the flu or just feels lousy. Or it could be someone who has forgotten their medications and just needs some meds. Or it could be someone who has fainted. There are a lot of different things we could handle. We think [a clinic] would take some of the load off of the EMS folks so they could focus on the real serious cases."

Jonathan Gaffney, the airports authority's vice president for communications, said seriously ill, non-trauma cases typically are transported from Dulles to Reston Hospital Center. The more distant Loudoun Hospital and Inova Fair Oaks are used as secondary facilities, he said. Trauma cases usually are sent to Inova Fairfax.

A clinic would be a welcome addition to Dulles Airport to treat less serious illnesses, Gaffney said.

"Our crash-fire-rescue people respond to sick passengers and workers every day at Dulles," he said. "More than 18,000 people work out there [on airport property]. A clinic would give workers and passengers with non-emergency illnesses a place to go to."

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