The snow in Reston stood two feet deep in February 1979 when Linda Stokes went into labor and her husband, Dr. Richard L. Stokes, summoned an ambulance to take her to the nearest obstetrics facility, Fairfax Hospital.
Snow chains on the ambulance broke three times and the normal 35-minute ride to the hospital off the Capital Beltway turned into a 90-minute nightmare. That incident and others like it, the physician said this week, justify a fully equipped hospital for the Reston area.
"I don't care about population statistics, I care about access," Stokes told an eight-member government committee reviewing a proposal for a $34-million, privately owned, 200-bed hospital in Reston. "I don't want a 60-minute trip to get to a hospital."
The crowd of 500 in the auditorium of Reston's South Lakes High School broke into applause. But their cheers were not enough.
The review committee, following a six-hour hearing that ended at 2 a.m. Tuesday, voted unanimously to recommend that the 30-member Health Systems Agency of Northern Virginia, at its next meeting Monday, deny Humana Inc.'s proposal to build the Cameron Woods Hospital near the Dulles Airport Access Road. Under federal law, Humana must obtain a certificate of need from Virginia officials before it can begin construction of a hospital.
As the hearing--the first step toward winning that certificate--illustrated, Northern Virginians are sharply divided on the proposal for what would be Fairfax County's only privately owned hospital. The county government didn't take a position on the issue, but two members of the Board of Supervisors, Democrat Martha Pennino and Republican Nancy Falck, spoke in favor of the hospital.
However, the powerful Fairfax Hospital Association--which runs Fairfax Hospital, Commonwealth Hospital, Mount Vernon Hospital and the Ambulatory Care Center Emergency Services System in Reston--opposes the Humana proposal. The association plans to close the Commonwealth Hospital in Fairfax City and build a new hospital near the intersection of Rte. 50 and I-66.
At the hearing, a representative from one of the Washington area's Blue Cross insurance plans argued against the Humana proposal, saying that Blue Cross does "not believe the applicant has adequately documented a need for an additional 200 acute care beds."
The insurance executive's comments echoed the findings of a staff report issued last week by the HSA. The report said Reston's population would grow at only half the annual rate projected by Humana officials and the 2,100 hospital beds in Northern Virginia are "more than adequate to meet regional needs for at least the next five years."
"Many times we've been accused of paying more attention to economics than the needs of people," committee chairman Mark Melcher said at the hearing, "but I think it's important we don't squander resources."
"Of course we Restonians would enjoy having a hospital here if it didn't cost us anything," said Charles D. Nethaway Jr., a member of the Reston Community Association who dissented from his organization's support for the hospital. "But it would cost us a lot."