Correction to This Article
A map printed with this article gave the wrong location for a proposed parking garage and office building for physicians at Suburban Hospital in Bethesda. The buildings would replace a garage and office building north of Lincoln Street at Old Georgetown Road.

Planned Hospital Addition Riles Suburban's Neighbors

Deborah Perry, left, and Arielle Grill of the Huntington Terrace Citizens' Association discuss Suburban Hospital's proposed expansion.
Deborah Perry, left, and Arielle Grill of the Huntington Terrace Citizens' Association discuss Suburban Hospital's proposed expansion. (By James M. Thresher -- The Washington Post)
By Miranda S. Spivack and Mariana Minaya
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, June 17, 2007

Suburban Hospital in Bethesda is planning a $135 million expansion that could close down a neighborhood street and bulldoze more than a dozen homes, a proposal that has alarmed some residents, who fear the hospital could soon overtake the neighborhood.

For Suburban, which has evolved in six decades from a community hospital into a state-designated regional trauma and stroke center, the expansion's first phase would add an office building, more private rooms and more parking.

For residents in the Huntington Terrace neighborhood just west of the hospital's Old Georgetown Road campus, the expansion could mean more noise, reduced light from shadows cast by taller buildings and the potential for more traffic.

"It's a community hospital. It's in a neighborhood. It wants to be a really big regional hospital in a community footprint," said Lesley Hildebrand, a systems analyst for a consulting firm, who lives nearby. "I think they're trying to shoehorn their way on top of us. Some people would say they're getting too big for their britches."

Suburban's next move is to petition Montgomery County this summer to close one block of Lincoln Street, which bisects the property. If that is approved, the hospital will begin to outline to county regulators details of its expansion, which neighbors say would nearly double the size of the facility.

Eventually, the matter will be turned over to a hearing examiner and reviewed by the county Board of Appeals.

Suburban -- which began as a small community hospital founded as World War II was ending -- has emerged in recent years as a pivotal partner of the National Institutes of Health, just across Old Georgetown Road, and the soon-to-expand National Naval Medical Center on nearby Rockville Pike.

Together, the three hospitals are potential sites for critical triage if there is a major regional disaster. They will be able to ramp up a field hospital with an extra 200 beds and care for major trauma victims as well as those who may have been exposed to chemicals or germ warfare, said Brian A. Gragnolati, Suburban's chief executive. Such efforts require that the hospital remain on the cutting edge of medical advances, he said.

More space is needed to accommodate medical imaging equipment and other modern technology. The rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, as well as patient preferences, have driven plans to build more private rooms, he said. The new office building could help attract and keep good staff and doctors by minimizing their commuting time and providing a comfortable setting, he said.

When Gragnolati arrived in 2001, he reviewed plans for expansion and later scuttled them as not fitting into his long-term vision. The revamped plans essentially would rebuild the hospital, but in stages.

"As the population grows, our needs grow, and so does our organization," Gragnolati said. The hospital has eight other sites in Montgomery that do outpatient procedures. "We really need to focus in on acute care on this campus," he said.

Neighbors, who said their relations with the hospital under Gragnolati's predecessor were friendlier, have begun alerting local officials about their concerns and are digging in for a long fight.

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