Volunteers, employes and friends of the new Southern Maryland Hospital Center in Clinton came before the Prince George's County Council this week to voice their support for a bill that would allow the hospital to expand into a full-service health care campus.
Under the bill, certain types of development would be permitted in residential areas adjacent to hospitals, provided that a special zoning exemption was obtained by the hospital owners. Development could include professional offices, medical laboratories, professional training centers, nursing homes, rental units and recreation facilities for hospital staff, commercial stores and a motel or hotel.
"The bill's passage is vital to the needs of the people of Clinton," said Juanita Darmstead, who represented the Clinton Boys and Girls clubs. "We are very proud of this facility, and this would only help it to get better."
If approved, the legislation would allow the hospital to develop into the "Mayo Clinic of Prince George's," envisioned by the founder, Francis P. Chiaramonte when he first designed Southern Maryland in 1971.
Chiaramonte is not the only county physician or health planner who would benefit from the legislation. But his presence at the hearing and that of several of his followers indicated to council members that at least residents in the southern part of the country had a prime interest in seeing the bill passed.
Becky Jantara, a nurse at the hospital, told the council that Southern Maryland "is a valuable asset to the county and should be allowed to expand."
She and others, who wore blue signs stamped with the letters SMHC, filed up to the podium to express their enthusiams for the new hospital.
Chiaramonte's lawyer, Russell Shipley, pointed out what he said would be the benefits of such an expansion.
"There are obvious favorable economic impacts for the county," he said. "This would not only represent a convenience for doctors needing special diagnostic centers, but an economy of time for doctors and patients and visitors and nurses. This may ultimately be important to the health and welfare of the patient."
Council member David G. Hartlove said he was "proud and happy to see citzens in the county support the hospital."
And council member William B. Amonett said he supported the idea of a countywide health campus.
But in the years that Chiaramonte has worked to build his hospital, he has frequently had conflicts with some council members and the county executive over the details of his proposals.
This legislation, introduced by Chiaramonte's longtime supporter, council member Darlene Z. White, may end the squabbling that occassionally has broken out over funding and design questions.
The final vote on the bill is expected within the next few weeks.