Adventist challenges Md. official's backing of Holy Cross to build hospital in northern Montgomery

By Lena H. Sun
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 6, 2011; 10:04 PM

Adventist HealthCare is challenging a Maryland official's recommendation last month that rival Holy Cross Hospital should be authorized to build a new hospital in northern Montgomery County. Adventist wants state officials to delay a final decision until further study has been done.

In a 105-page document of exceptions filed Thursday, Rockville-based Adventist asks the Maryland Health Care Commission to hold off on a final decision at its Jan. 20 meeting and to reopen the review because of what Adventist contends are flawed and unsupported conclusions about cost and other key factors.

For two years, the two health-care giants have waged a costly and intense competition for state approval of a new hospital in Montgomery's fastest-growing region. It was an important victory for Holy Cross when Marilyn Moon, who chairs the commission and conducted the review, rendered her findings Dec. 17.

One of the flaws that Adventist cited in Moon's recommendation involves reproductive services that would be offered by Holy Cross, a Catholic hospital.

Reproductive health advocates across the country have raised concerns about religious directives that prevent Catholic hospitals from providing a variety of services, including fertility treatments, abortions, tubal ligations and hormonal contraception. Several women's groups say that because of those restrictions, the Holy Cross proposal would undermine public health priorities.

In her recommendation, Moon acknowledged the women's groups' concerns but concluded that Montgomery was not an area "that lacks available and accessible options for obtaining these services."

"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," she wrote.

In its filing, Adventist said that Moon provided no evidence to support her conclusion and that no testimony on the issue was presented during seven days of hearings.

"The availability of reproductive information, counseling, support and services for women in Montgomery County is . . . a matter of serious concern," states the Adventist document of exceptions. "Having identified the importance of this issue and having made a specific finding that there will be no substantive negative impact of approving [Holy Cross Hospital-Germantown], the Recommended Decision should state the evidence on which this conclusion is based."

In a statement, William "Bill" Robertson, president and chief executive of Adventist HealthCare, said: "Our exceptions identify issues and concerns that are vitally important to address before there is any ruling to establish Maryland's first hospital in a metropolitan area in more than 30 years. This decision is too important for the citizens of Montgomery County and Maryland to be rushed through the full commission."

Holy Cross proposes to build a $202 million, 93-bed acute-care hospital on the Germantown campus of Montgomery College. Adventist, 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.

Interested parties have until Wednesday to submit responses to the exceptions. A spokeswoman for Holy Cross said the hospital would respond to exceptions "as appropriate, as called for in the rules." Pamela Barclay, who oversees hospital services at the state commission, would not comment.

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