By Lena H. Sun
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 17, 2010; 10:01 PM
A key Maryland state official is siding with Holy Cross Hospital on its proposal to build a hospital in northern Montgomery County, according to her recommendation released Friday.
Adventist HealthCare and Holy Cross Hospital have been waging a costly and intense battle for the past two years to win state approval for a new hospital in Montgomery's fastest-growing region.
Holy Cross proposes to build a $202 million, 93-bed general acute-care hospital on the Germantown campus of Montgomery College. Adventist HealthCare, the county's largest employer, wants to build a $177 million, 86-bed acute-care hospital a few miles to the north in Clarksburg, along Interstate 270 between Shady Grove Adventist and Frederick Memorial hospitals.
The eagerly awaited recommendation from Marilyn Moon, who chairs the Maryland Health Care Commission, will carry significant weight when the full commission meets Jan. 20 to decide which proposal, if any, should proceed.
William "Bill" Robertson, president and chief executive of Adventist HealthCare, quickly issued a statement expressing dismay. Although he said he respected Moon's decision, "the flawed recommendation does nothing to stop our resolve to make sure Montgomery County's next hospital is in Clarksburg."
He said Adventist officials will urge the full commission to support the Clarksburg proposal and will file a written exception. They will argue their case at next month's commission meeting. A final decision is expected after that meeting.
Kevin Sexton, president and chief executive of Holy Cross, applauded Moon's decision.
"Today is obviously a terrific day not only from the standpoint of Holy Cross but also for the county and its people," he said. "To get to her decision, she had to first cross the important bridge of need."
If the commission approves a new hospital for Montgomery, it would be the county's first new one in 30 years and the first entirely new hospital in the state since the early 1990s.
A number of hospitals have been built in Maryland in recent years, including one that recently opened in Hagerstown, but those replaced existing facilities.
With nearly 1 million residents, affluent Montgomery is the most populous jurisdiction in Maryland, and the population of residents between 65 to 74 is expected to grow by about 117 percent from 2000 to 2020, according to county planners.
In her 181-page recommendation, Moon said the future growth and aging of the population would support the need for one but not two new hospitals in the upper-county area.
She concluded that Silver Spring-based Holy Cross, which is part of Trinity Health, a Catholic hospital system based in Michigan, had the superior proposal.
"It represents an approach to improving access to hospital services for upper Montgomery County and providing adequate bed capacity for the future that is both reasonable in its cost and located [in] the area of the county that will experience the highest levels of population growth," she wrote in a four-page cover memorandum summarizing her decision.
From a strategic perspective, she said, a "satellite" hospital of the Holy Cross campus in Silver Spring could shift hospital bed and service capacity from the eastern side of the county, where there will be less demand, to the fast-growing north, which will have much greater demand.
The new hospital would also make it possible for the existing Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring to modernize, she noted.
She said Holy Cross's parent organization is financially well-positioned to undertake the project.
She also said that Holy Cross, as a provider of hospital services, has a track record that is equal to or better than that of the Adventist hospitals "with respect to quality of care, community benefits, and efficient and effective management."
By comparison, she said that Adventist HealthCare's proposal was a "riskier project," noting the lower population density in the Clarksburg location and the weaker financial position of Adventist HealthCare.
Adventist, which operates Shady Grove Adventist in Rockville and Washington Adventist in Takoma Park, also wants to relocate Washington Adventist from Takoma Park to a location six miles away in White Oak, and is seeking state approval for that move.
Moon concluded that the priority for Adventist must be ensuring "the long-term viability" of Washington Adventist Hospital.
"This task, critical to restoring Adventist HealthCare to robust financial health, is large enough that it should not be put at risk by simultaneously attempting to establish a new hospital," she wrote.
Adventist has long planned to build a hospital in Clarksburg to complement the Shady Grove Adventist Hospital and its emergency center in Germantown. Adventist purchased land in Clarksburg in 2001 and received the necessary county traffic, land and environmental approvals.
But in August 2008, Holy Cross surprised many in the community when it announced an agreement with Montgomery College to build a hospital on the college's Germantown campus.
Some in the community have complained about the lack of transparency in that process, and women's groups have raised concerns that Catholic religious directives would restrict some services, such as fertility treatments, birth control and abortion.
A majority of up-county state legislators have written letters supporting the Clarksburg proposal.
Moon acknowledged the women's groups' concerns, but she said: "I believe that this would be a serious impact concern if a hospital like [Holy Cross Hospital-Germantown] was being proposed for an area that lacks available and accessible options for obtaining these services.
"Montgomery County is not such an area," she noted in her recommendation. "I do not find that approval . . . would have a substantial negative impact on the availability or accessibility of the services that [Holy Cross Hospital-Germantown] will not provide, because it will be adhering to the doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church."