[TEXT OMITTED FROM SOURCES] easily accessible to the fastest growing areas of Fairfax.
"I take little glee in the fact that it is not fulfilling its predictions," said Dr. Thomas M. Wright, former president of the Fairfax County Medical Society. "But it never has been or will be as busy as it would have been in a different location."
The story of how Mount Vernon Hospital came to be begins in the late 1960s when Fairfax County was riding the wave of a migration boom that had county statisticians predicting a population of 1.5 million people in Fairfax in the year 2000. Against this background a 1965 consultant's report suggested that Fairfax Hospital should be expanded and complemented by two community hospitals of not less than 225 beds each.
The consultant's report stated specifically that the southeastern part of the county, the Mount Vernon district, should be rejected as a location for one of the hospitals because most doctors already in practice were oriented to Alexandria Hospital, which was planing to expand, and because a small facility was planned for Woodbridge - the Potomac Hospital.
County voters approved a $32.5 million bond referendum in 1967 for construction of the two hospitals. They were to cost about $10 million each, and nine other health facility projects were also approved in the referendum.
When it came time to select the site for the southernmost county hospital in 1969, however, all the proposed 12 sites were located in the southeastern part of the county, in either Mount Vernon or Lee District.
Rightly or wongly, popular opinion at this point credits Herbert E. Harris, now a U.S. congressman, with stewarding the hospital project though the political process to its final completion in Mount Vernon District.
Dr. Wright, then president of the Fairfax County Medical Society, said his organization favored a site west of the one chosen, which he charged "was picked and rammed through by Congressman Herb Harris." The hospital exists where it is, said another observer, due to the "sheer political influence" of Harris who "convinced his fellow Democrats this was a good thing to do."
Harris said, however, it was "demographic studies by the county planning staff (that) concluded a hospital should be placed in the Rte. 1 corridor," even though three years earlier the county was predicting that its fatest growth would occur in other parts of the county.
In 1971 an architect was hired to design a buidling for the present site and two years after that, excavations began.
But while the excavators were digging, changes were occurring in the county and nation that led people to question the wisdom of building a full-fledged hospital in Mount Vernon.
The county government had begun to express concern over the uncontrolled growth of the jurisdiction and sewer coratoriums were curtailing new construction.In addition a nationwide economic recession helped slow down Fairfax's growth, and inflation drove prices up.
Dr. Stuart H. Altman, a deputy secretary of Health, Education and Welfare for planning, was telling local citizen groups in 1973 that "Northern Virginia will go from a hospital shortage to a hospital surplus area . . . and the citizens of the community will pay for these excesses."
Blue Cross-Blue Shield insurance executives also opposed construction of the Mount Vernon Hospital, said spokesman Ray Freson.
And within the county government, serious doubts about the project were raised in interoffice memos, one of which labeled the hospital "not only the most expensive one under way in Fairfax. County but also the most questionable because it would add 210 beds to the Northern Virginia region with a 74 per cent rate of occupancy in its existing hospitals." (An efficient occupancy rate for hospitals is 85 per cent). In addition, expansions were planned or already under way at four other hospitals in the area.
As it became obvious that inflation was pushing the cost of the hospital past $10 million, Centreville Supervisor Martha Pennino, realizing that her northern district might never get its hospital, said she suggested a review of the whole proposal.
As opposition to the hospital heightened, Herb Harris' "strong leadership" grew stronger and the Mount Vernon citizens grew more vocal in their desire to have the hospital in their district. People began to refer to the proposed hospital as the "Hero Harris Memorial."
When the final construction contracts were awarded in March, 1974, five supervisors voted with Harris for the hospital.
Today, the allice brick and concrete bolly of Mount Vernon Hospital is almost deserted. The fifth floor is closed - its 68-bed capacity marked for use sometime in the future. In active wards on other floors, only 98 beds, a little over half the bedspace, are being used.
Today the hospital has no need for the 193 beds it expected to be in use after one year of operation. In addition, the originally projected deficit of $550,000 has been revised upward to $818,000, according to the hospital's administrator, Richard C. Foster.
The Fairfax Hospital Association, which operates Mount Vernon laong with Commonwealth Doctors and Fairfax Hospitals, must pay this deficit out of the revenue it collects from patients at these three hospitals.
But Foster emphasizes that although the hospital has not grown at the anticipated rate for the first year, it has expanded its services. He cites these figures: an August occupancy rate of 86.6 per cent with a yearly average to date of 80.1 per cent; an increase in emergency room visits from an average of 51 per day to 70 per day in surgical operations form 117 procedures per month in January to 230 in August.
These expansions have meant, however, that two hospitals, Alexandria and Circle Terrace in that city, were forced to remove from use 26 to 17 beds respectively, according to George Barker of the Northern Virginia Health Systems Agency, the federally funded watchdog of health-related construction. Alexandria Hospital is about seven miles from Mount Vernon.
Ironically, the Mount Vernon community that lobbied for the hospital to be built in its district, has been one of the reasons why it has not grown more rapidly. Foster said that physicians have found it difficult to find office space near the hospital and thus have been deterred from operating there full-time. Their difficulties stem, in part, from opposition by local residents to professional offices in their neighborhoods.
"The notion that full occupancy has been delayed until (the hospital's) second or third year doesn't prove that it is not needed," said Harris. "Whether other areas - like the north and west of the county - need a facility is something that should be looked at, but you can't say that therefore you don't need a hospital in Mount Vernon. That is like robbing Peter to pay Paul," the congressman added. "Hospital planning is not just limited to the number of beds, (it) is placing the services where the people are," Harris said.