Loudoun Healthcare Inc. has asked the Circuit Court to overturn a state regulator's decision to allow the county's second hospital to be built in the Broadlands area of eastern Loudoun. It is the latest legal maneuver in an increasingly bitter battle over the future of health care in the nation's fastest-growing county.

Local officials say health care delivery in Loudoun has not kept up with the county's sharp population increases. Loudoun Healthcare, which operates the 90-year-old nonprofit Loudoun Hospital Center, maintains that opening a second hospital so close to its Lansdowne campus would lead to competition for patients and medical workers that would drive up health care costs.

Loudoun Healthcare said in court documents that State Health Commissioner Robert B. Stroube erred when he granted permission in March to Nashville-based HCA Corp., the nation's largest for-profit hospital chain, to build the 164-bed Broadlands Regional Medical Center. HCA officials contend that Loudoun can support two hospitals and that residents would benefit from competition.

Stroube had previously rejected HCA's request to build a larger hospital in Broadlands. He said that the project he approved in March had been sufficiently downsized from the initial 180-bed proposal and that HCA's new national program to help low-income, uninsured patients pay for health services would help Northern Virginia as the area changes. The proposal also added obstetric services.

Loudoun Hospital said in court documents that Stroube's decision in March was "unlawful and must be set aside because of the commissioner's arbitrary and capricious departure from the conclusions he drew in" his first ruling. "The exact same circumstances that were called 'black' are now called 'white.' "

HCA officials have said they hoped to break ground for Broadlands Regional Medical Center by early 2005 and open it by 2008.

-- LESLIE SHEPHERD