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Virginia Health Department opposes plans for hospitals in Gainesville-Haymarket

By Jennifer Buske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 20, 2010; PW01

Officials with the Virginia Department of Health have recommended that the state's health commissioner deny two proposals that would expand the number of health care options in western Prince William County.

Applications for new hospitals in the Gainesville-Haymarket area were submitted to the state by Sentara Healthcare and Prince William Health System in January. Although the Prince William Health System's application was well received at a public hearing and by the Health Systems Agency of Northern Virginia, the state's Certificate of Public Need division recommended that both proposals be denied.

"I am very concerned about the apparent disconnect between some of the decisions being made in Richmond and the needs of Prince William County," Del. Jackson H. Miller (R-Manassas) said in a letter to Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R). "With a growing population . . . the Haymarket area is more than large enough to support a new hospital."

Sentara Healthcare withdrew its application after the announcement.

"Rather than expending resources when we have little chance for approval, we believe at this time Sentara Healthcare can better serve area residents and add much more value by focusing our efforts on other strategic initiatives," said Megan Perry, Sentara senior vice president for business development.

Prince William Health System is seeking to build a hospital with 60 beds -- 30 of which would move from its Prince William Hospital -- next to Heathcote Health Center, which it operates near Route 15 and Interstate 66. The $115 million project would open in January 2015 and include an emergency department and imaging, laboratory and rehabilitation services.

"We were disappointed," said Cynda Tipple, chief operating officer of Prince William Hospital. "Western Prince William continues to experience significant population growth. . . . We believe a hospital in Haymarket . . . would be a natural progression of the health care services that are already offered."

According to Prince William Hospital officials, the state said there are adequate health care services available in the area. The Certificate of Public Need division said there is, however, a need for 29 new hospital beds in the planning district. Tipple said she thinks that request fits with the fact that only 20 of the 60 beds proposed for the hospital would be new.

"This is disappointing, and I think we need this out there," county Supervisor W.S. Covington III (R-Brentsville) said, noting he questions whether the state is trying to protect the hospitals in Fauquier County. "Everyone on our board supported both hospitals."

Officials at the Virginia Department of Health who are familiar with the application were not available to comment. Advocates for a new hospital said the Gainesville-Haymarket area needs more medical facilities as the population continues to grow and residents must travel outside the county for services. Miller said in his letter that some residents travel more than 45 minutes for care. The state medical facilities plan says travel time should be no more than 30 minutes.

Approval of a new hospital is based on numerous factors, state health officials have said. They include whether there is a need, whether the project is financially feasible, whether there is support from the community and whether the project introduces a new level of positive competition among providers.

Because the division recommended denial, an administrative law judge was brought in Thursday to hear from all parties, state health officials said. He will have 30 days to make a recommendation to the health commissioner. The health commissioner has 45 days to make a final decision, which can be appealed to Circuit Court.

Residents will have until June 30 to comment on the proposed hospital.

To submit comments to the commissioner, e-mail karen.http://remley@http://vdh.http://virginia.govor visit http://www.governor.virginia.gov/aboutthegovernor/contactgovernor.cfm.

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