Taking Pride in a Cleaner

And Safer Community

I am writing in response to issues raised in Christina Griffin's letter to the editor, "Residents Long Sought Crackdown on Junk Cars" [Prince William Extra, Aug. 15].

As Ms. Griffin points out, county residents take pride in their community. As a result, they continue to ask the county government for help in keeping their neighborhoods free from zoning violations. It has taken some time to get the necessary staff in place to address issues such as neglected properties, debris and trash, unauthorized vehicles and overcrowding of residences. We have been trying and are getting better at responding to these issues in a timely fashion.

The Board of County Supervisors has identified community maintenance as one of its strategic goals and has directed more resources toward responding to requests for service. It is true that we are struggling with the number of complaints received, which have tripled in recent years. We also struggle to achieve a balance between giving property owners an opportunity to mitigate the concern and taking punitive action. Yet we have many accomplishments to report.

Last year alone, our Property Code Enforcement Division received and responded to 2,457 complaints, issued 1,450 violation notices, took 238 cases to court and resolved 2,134 cases. These complaints range from property cleanup to inoperative vehicles to the number of people living in a single-family home. County police closed 436 inoperative-vehicle cases in 2003. These cases resulted in the resolution of 1,081 inoperative-vehicle violations. Of those violations, 1,031 vehicles were removed by the owners, and 50 vehicles were towed by the county police department. Additionally, more than 3,800 volunteers provided 13,114 hours of service to our community for litter cleanups, and our county litter crews picked up more than 193 tons of trash and removed almost 22,000 illegal signs from the rights of way.

Our focus on community maintenance is not only to address violations throughout the county, but also to look at applicable laws and regulations. We have created a task force that, among other things, will look at these laws and regulations to determine if they need to be amended or updated to meet the needs of our growing community. Additionally, the task force is taking a close look at all aspects of cleaning up and maintaining our community and making sure Prince William County is a safe place to live.

Concerns or possible violations may be reported by calling 703-792-7018 or visiting www.pwcgov.org. Weeds and tall grass may be reported by calling 703-792-6666. Together, we can work to make Prince William County the best because, in the end, we all want the same thing -- a community of which we can be proud.

Craig S. Gerhart

Prince William county executive

Region Is Losing Facilities

For Psychiatric Patients

The Potomac Hospital board of trustees has decided to shut down the hospital's outpatient and inpatient psychiatric units. From what I've read, the outpatient unit has already closed, and the inpatient unit is scheduled to close permanently in December.

What I find interesting is that at the same time the Potomac Hospital board of trustees claimed it was losing money from the outpatient and inpatient psychiatric services, it submitted an expansion proposal to State Health Commissioner Robert B. Stroube about a year and a half ago.

Potomac Hospital was one of four applicants, and it received glowing recommendations of approval because of its remote location from the center of hospital activity in the region.

The other applicants were HCA (Hospital Corporation of America), the nonprofit Loudoun Hospital Center and Inova Fair Oaks Hospital.

Loudoun Hospital Center applied for an extra 32 beds. A key part of HCA's case to build a new hospital was to improve the region's capabilities in dealing with a terrorist attack or other incidents causing mass casualties.

The two hospitals and the state disagreed on projections and complicated formulas used to determine the need for bed space and population growth.

In addition, despite recommendations from the Health Systems Agency of Northern Virginia and the state health department staff that its application should be denied, HCA is moving forward with getting necessary local land use permits to begin construction of the 180-bed hospital that would be south of the Dulles Greenway, about five miles from Loudoun Hospital's Lansdowne facility. It has met with county planners in the site development review process and is conducting traffic analyses that it will use when it files an application for a special-exception permit. Although Stroube initially denied HCA's application, he had a change of heart and approved it.

At Broadlands, an eight-member citizen panel has been meeting with hospital representatives about the plans. A proposal to shift child, adolescent and adult psychiatric beds -- as well as the location of a helipad used in shuttling victims by helicopter -- from HCA's Falls Church-based Dominion Hospital and Arlington-based Northern Virginia Community Hospital has irked Broadlands residents. As a solution, HCA representatives say they have tentatively chosen a different site at Route 659 and the Dulles Greenway, as far from the residential area as possible. More recently there have been plans to close Dominion Hospital and Northern Virginia Community Hospital and transfer all patients to the HCA Broadlands facility.

Considering that the state health department and Health Systems Agency of Northern Virginia recommended HCA's application be denied, I have to wonder what happened to the glowing recommendations of approval for Potomac Hospital because of its remote location from the center of hospital activity in the region. I must admit the hospital has greatly expanded and continues to expand, but it has removed its outpatient and inpatient psychiatric units.

With much less bed space for psychiatric cases and a waiting list at many institutions and hospitals in the region, I don't see why cases from surrounding jurisdictions can't be transferred to Potomac Hospital's inpatient psychiatric unit if there are not enough indigenous patients filling beds.

Gov. Mark R. Warner (D) plans to close hundreds of beds in state mental hospitals and close down certain facilities and "reinvest" $22 million into local Community Services Boards. It is still a shortfall.

What message does it send to "regionally" shut down inpatient psychiatric units to those leaving mental institutions as well as those in the community who suffer from severe mental illness?

Michael Ragland