Loudoun Hospital Center's parent corporation voted last week to keep the hospital in Leesburg, apparently ending months of controversy over whether the facility would move its base of operations several miles to the east.
Last Thursday's vote by Loudoun Healthcare's board of directors begins a search for a hospital location inside the town and does not rule out the possibility of using the current site. At the same time, the hospital is planning to expand its presence in eastern Loudoun with a surgical center to open this month and a cancer treatment facility that may open next year.
The decision to keep the base of operations in the county seat is a victory for Leesburg officials, who feared losing the 800-employee facility as well as the county government central offices. The vote also should please many western Loudoun residents who might have been forced to choose among locations in eastern Loudoun, Winchester and Frederick, Md., for primary health care.
The preference of doctors who admit patients to Loudoun Hospital Center was among the reasons cited by officials for last week's decision to stay in town. In a statement, Loudoun Healthcare Board Chairman Grenville T. Emmet said the board considered but rejected the option of building two smaller inpatient hospitals, one in eastern Loudoun and one in or near Leesburg.
"For operational as well as financial reasons, the option of two inpatient facilities was deemed impractical," said Emmet.
"Changes in health care in the last 15 to 20 years are making the current hospital inefficient to maintain, yet it is our mission to continue delivering quality care," hospital President Kevin T. Potter said in a statement. The current facility, where construction began about 75 years ago, now provides nearly half of its surgical services on an outpatient basis, a major shift in the past few years, officials said.
Economic concerns and the patchwork layout of the current plant were among factors that led to Potter's Dec. 1 announcement that the hospital planned to head east, where the county's population is continuing to concentrate. That area also is served by hospitals in Reston and Fairfax City.
The community reaction to Potter's announcement was immediate, and overwhelmingly negative. Officials subsequently said they would consider central Loudoun sites as well as some in eastern Loudoun, but last week's vote apparently settles the matter.
"There's always the possibility for change," commented hospital spokesman Linda deButts this week, but the hospital board "has studied this for a long time" and is determined to make things work in Leesburg, she added.
Leesburg Vice Mayor James E. Clem this week hailed the hospital board's decision as "the smartest move they could make" regarding the $40 million-a-year business.
He said many people who moved to central and western Loudoun in recent years did so in part because of the proximity of the facility. "It's an excellent hospital," Clem said. "It would be a travesty" to move it away from Leesburg.
DeButts said there is no deadline for finding a site or opening the new hospital. The hospital plans to unveil its new surgical center this month in leased space in Countryside, she said. Last week, the parent firm's board voted to set up a cancer treatment facility somewhere in eastern Loudoun, possibly as early as mid-1991.
Emmet said the cancer center "will, for the first time, make it possible for residents who need radiation therapy, as well as oncology treatment, to receive that service in Loudoun County."
Currently, the hospital offers some services at its facility in the Sterling Medical Office Park, near Routes 7 and 637.