A contingent of Arlington physicians, nurses and county residents last week strongly opposed any consideration of closing the maternity wing at Arlington Hospital as suggested by an initial draft of a plan for health care in Northern Virginia.
"If you close the obstetrical units at Arlington Hospital, then pediatrics services will go, obviously," said Dr. T.A. McGavin, head of obstetrics at the hospital. "We will no longer be a full service hospital. Our patients will have to go elsewhere."
His comments and those of 10 other supports of Arlington Hospital, came at a public hearing Thursday night on the first draft of a hospital services section of a comprehensive health plan for Northern Virginia. The plan is being formed by the Health Systems Agency (HSA) of Northern Virginia, a federally-mandated organization responsible for planning and monitoring local health care.
The plan is an attempt to set uniform goals and standards to insure the quality of health care, while containing ever-increasing health care costs.
Edward Kelly, chairman of the board of the Northern Virginia HSA, said the Arlington group "overreacted to the content of the plan."
"Nobody here is saying close the maternity wing at Arlington," Kelly said. "The plan recommends that the HSA study what effects closing it might have. I'm surprised a group as intelligent as this would react as though closing were a foregone conclusion."
"Too often in processes like this, the initial draft becomes the final document," said Arlington Hospital Administrator John P. Sverha. "This plan' recommendations show an imbalance between statistical standards and local human conditions. Much more than statistics has to be taken into account before you can start pointing to specific hospitals for closing."
The plan states that both Arlington Hospital and Potomac Hospital in Eastern Prince William County do not provide obstetrical care to the majority of patients in their service areas. The plan also says each of the hospitals performs fewer than 2,000 births annually, a standard used for closing obstetrical units if patients do not have to travel more than a half hour to another hospital as a result of the closing.
"The HSA should gather the necessary data and information needed to evaluate the probable effects of closure of the obstetrical units at Arlington Hospital and Potomac Hospital," reads the plan's recommendation.
Potomac Hospital Administrator L. E. Richardson charged that the board had first set it objectives, "then selected the data to support them. There are variables within each Northern Virginia jurisdiction that are not being considered throughout this plan."
Richardson added he was "alarmed" at the plan's suggestions. He said Potomac Hospital's facilities were officially approved three years ago, "and now you're advising to spend money to study closing part of it. This is planning?"
The public hearing Thursday covered only the hospital services section of the plan, one of about 10 parts being prepared. The entire long-range plan that eventually will govern the development of health care services in Northern Virginia is expected to be completed in January.
In a letter to the HSA board, Fairfax County Executive Leonard Whorton said the Fairfax County Board's general reaction to the hospital services section of the plan was "very favorable."
Among the plan's objectives is that hospitals reach 90 per cent occupancy by 1982, that hospital radiology rooms be used 68 hours a week, that surgery rooms reach 80 per cent utilization and that at least 27 per cent of the surgery provided in Northern Virginia be performed on ambulatory patients. Average hospital occupany in Norther Virginia is below 80 per cent.
Most of the physicians speaking at the hearing called the plan's utilization objectives "unrealistic."
"As far as hospital utilization is concerned, if you have 90 per cent occupancy, that means some patients are going to get substantard care at peak times," said Lloyd Burke, a surgeon at Arlington Hospital.
"This plan has got to find a better balance between quality care and cost containment," he said.