A Healthy Choice

As a Loudoun County resident and supporter of Broadlands Regional Medical Center, I have participated in the approval of a certificate of public needs for more than a year. Needless to say, I was pleased that the Virginia health commissioner approved the issuance of the certificate after he determined a public need for a new hospital in Loudoun.

Throughout the approval process, I became aware of the full court press Loudoun Hospital Center has applied to deny Broadlands Regional Medical Center an opportunity to exist and to prevent bringing much needed quality medical services to Loudoun residents.

Public hearings were stacked with Loudoun Hospital employees expressing their objections; exaggerated claims in the KPMG report were cited; and certain doctors were targeted to not support a new hospital. These actions fly in the face of the basic principles that govern free enterprise -- healthy competition, expanding much-needed services to our residents at competitive rates -- and, by extension, undermine the county's desires to expand the tax base through for-profit, tax-contributing businesses.

These actions by Loudoun Hospital ultimately proved fruitless, since the Virginia health commissioner agreed with a large segment of Loudoun's population that a second hospital was needed.

Now, Loudoun Hospital has launched a second round of preventive measures by introducing an amendment to the county's regional growth plan that does not include Broadlands Regional Medical Center but instead advocates a number of Loudoun Hospital-operated hospitals and health-care centers, which have not been approved by Virginia's health commissioner. In fact, an application for expansion of Loudoun Hospital's system was recently turned down.

Loudoun Hospital's "plan" has nothing to do with improving health care or providing more choices and better access to services. It is a desperate effort to keep Broadlands Regional Medical Center out of the county. Loudoun Hospital's actions are not right and not necessary.

To my dismay, the majority of the Board of Supervisors seems to want to go along with letting Loudoun Hospital further monopolize health care in Loudoun to the detriment of its citizens. I suggest that the board rethink this policy as Loudoun is the fastest-growing county in the entire country and is in desperate need of this new, full-service, state-of-the-art hospital in Broadlands.

Loudoun has less than one hospital bed per 1,000 residents and is among the lowest of any county in Virginia. With an expected population in excess of 300,000 by 2010, the current hospital-bed shortage will be at crisis levels.

Broadlands Regional Medical Center will help address this problem and will offer the county's residents an additional choice in specialty services and health care. More than 50 percent of Loudoun residents now leave the county to receive health care.

It is imperative that the Board of Supervisors support a second hospital in Loudoun and respond positively to the will of the people. The amendment to the growth plan should not be approved, and the Board of Supervisors should vigorously and expediently support the land-use approvals necessary for Broadlands Regional Medical Center to start providing improved health-care choices for Loudoun residents in 2005.

Jan A. Zachariasse


Further Clarifications

Two letters to the editor, "Practice Before You Preach" by retired Navy Capt.. Sanford N. Levey and "A Clear Dividing Line" by George Dahlman [Loudoun Extra, April 25], took "constitutional issue" with me over my April 15 letter "Religion Has a Major Role."

My letter was in response to Dahlman's earlier letter, "No Place for Religious Play" [Loudoun Extra, April 8], wherein he complained that the performance of a Passion play at Franklin Park by an area church on public land seems a blatant violation of constitutional requirements for separation of church and state.

My initial response to Dahlman, for which he and Levey now take me to task, was, in effect, to "get a life and don't let the little things bother you."

I would like to respond to three of Levey's questions: Have I ever read the Bill of Rights; did I know that the Constitution protects the rights of minorities; and do I think that because the majority of people in this country are professed Christians, all of us must be subjected to their beliefs and their prayers? The answers are yes, yes and no.

The good captain misquoted me, however, when he said, "Merna cites the soldiers and Marines fighting in Iraq and implies that they are fighting for the right of the majority to impose their religion on the whole country."

What I said was, "I'm sure Dahlman will say [they are fighting] for his right to be so 'alarmed.' " The major point he missed was that at the exact time Dahlman was being "alarmed" by a "blatant violation" of his rights, servicemen were fighting and dying for his rights.

The captain also took political liberties when he said: "[Merna] mentions the 'out of control' federal courts. Does he include the same courts that put our beloved president in office?" Yes, I do include the same courts, and I was quite surprised he admitted that the courts did in fact "put our beloved president" in office.

However, I take issue with two of the adjectives he used, "our" and "beloved," which is self-serving since "beloved" means someone "dearly loved." Undoubtedly, there are many who "dearly love" our president, but I'm equally sure there are those who, although they may respect our president, do not share Levey's gratuitous accolade.

Levey and Dahlman object to the Passion play in a public park on the grounds that it violates the "separation of church and state," inferring that this phrase is part and parcel of the Constitution under the phrase "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."

Not all experts so agree. Alec Solomita's review ("Ronald Thiemann wants a less rigid church/state division," Harvard University Gazette, Oct. 31, 1996) of the book "Religion in Public Life: A Dilemma for Democracy" (Georgetown University Press) is pertinent to Levey's and Dahlman's contrary and countering assertion.

Thiemann argues that the American notion of the strict separation of church and state is not based on the Constitution but on a misreading of that document, which, Thiemann says, has unfairly and inappropriately excluded religious discussion from public debate. Thiemann says that the words "separation of church and state don't appear anywhere in the Constitution" and that "it's only been since a 1947 Supreme Court decision that the shorthand for the First Amendment clauses became "the wall of separation between church and state."

Constitutional issues aside, I remain adamant that the issue that started this debate is still nothing but a tempest in a teapot. In far too many instances, there is a lack of mutual respect by far too many individuals enmeshed in a litigious society, forever threatening and indeed filing what many consider frivolous lawsuits. Not wanting to be sued, or not having the funds to defend any such suits, defendants find it easier to abate whatever the threatening party objects to rather than taking the issue to court.

Levey said he "spent 30 years in the Navy and never thought that was what [he] was fighting for." With great respect, I thank him for his many years of honorable military service to our country. I hold the Navy and the Marine Corps in the highest esteem because five Merna brothers served in each of these services.

Two Mernas served in the Navy; our eldest brother was killed in action at age 19 in World War II when his LST-577 was sunk by a Japanese submarine. The other served for eight years, including service in the Korean War. Three Mernas joined the Marines, and all served in Korea. And although I did not serve 30 years' fighting, I did serve 26 months in two wars during 22 years in the Marines: 13 months as a platoon sergeant in Korea and 14 years later, another 13 months in Vietnam as a "Mustang" second lieutenant. (During those 26 months, there were periods when we went into reserve and had to defend only ourselves.)

This will be my last letter on this subject. To date, only five of us have weighed in on this topic, so it appears others have more important things on their minds on equally important issues. I hope, though, that this debate has stirred a few others to take up the torch. I made my point, right or wrong, and I'm satisfied that freedom of speech is alive and well.

It's quite clear, too, that neither side is going to change the stated position of the other side, no matter how many opinions or experts we introduce. Should others decide to direct their attention to this topic, I'll certainly read it and unless it gets absurd or insulting, will then move on to other things. I am known to get a little upset occasionally, especially when it comes to my three things: my bride of 53 years, the Marine Corps and the Washington Redskins, though not necessarily in that order.

So I leave this issue to others with the same motivation I had when I wrote my initial retort to Dahlman, that being: we live in troubled times, perhaps even more serious than at any other time in our history. I don't want to take away anybody's rights, though I have personally long maintained we have far too many rights in this great country, and I think fair-minded people will admit this. Far too much energy and other resources are wasted every day by otherwise well-meaning people and equally so by troublemaking individuals who have nothing else to do or have too much time on their hands.

Individuals in both categories could make far more important contributions to society other than by challenging every minor or imagined hurt or "blatant violation." Although I know there will be those who don't like to hear this, it is especially them to whom I address this.

Gerald F. Merna,

1st Lieutenant USMC (Ret.)

Potomac Falls