Hospital prepares to move operations

Washington Adventist Hospital

As Adventist HealthCare inches closer to moving Takoma Park’s only hospital to White Oak, local residents can finally begin to envision what resources they will be left with at the current site’s planned wellness village.

The Maryland Health Commission will hold an evidentiary hearing August 8, at which AHC will continue pursuing a Certificate of Need (CON) to move Washington Adventist Hospital (WAH). And partial designs to a component of the Village of Education, Health and Well-being could be finished in the next two months, according to an official from Mary’s Center, a federally funded health care provider that will be occupying space in the Takoma Park campus.

If Adventist HealthCare (AHC) can receive their CON by late fall, the new hospital and renovated existing site will begin offering services by 2015. The Takoma Park campus will provide urgent and primary medical care, rehabilitation, behavior health, and dialysis services, as well as other medical, social and educational services.

“What Mary’s Center is known for is outreach,” said David Tatro, chief operating officer of the organization. “We know in Maryland we have some statistics that are not good. Infant mortality needs to be improved and prenatal care numbers are low, so we believe through the wellness campus we can have some positive impact on those problems.”

The center’s Georgia Avenue location is similar to what Tatro said he envisions for Takoma Park. He estimates that in Takoma Park, they will be able to provide 35,000 primary care visits, 10,000 urgent care visits and 15,000 dental visits, as well as a family practice, mental health and social services, and a mobile medical unit.

“They have gone a little bit further than they did originally in terms of sketching out how they’re going to provide urgent care but there’s still a lack of specifics,” city manager Barbara Matthews said of AHC’s plans for the facility.

AHC, which built and funds Mary’s Center’s three-year-old Silver Spring location, submitted their CON application in April 2009, along with more than 1,200 letters of support from the community and the Food and Drug Administration. The new 48.8-acre, $398 million project in Calverton-White Oak will include 249 beds, an emergency room, a spiritual center and outpatient care facility.

However, the WAH Land Use Committee’s presentation to city council suggested the Village which AHC plans to put on the Takoma Park campus is at risk becoming a “proverbial Potemkin Village,” – more or less a false front that wouldn’t address the actual needs of the community.

It also claimed  renovation estimates for the campus were “negligible and inadequate,” and said development experts likened the plans to “slapping a coat of paint on kitchen walls and cabinets and installing new vinyl flooring under the guise of substantially renovating a home,” according to the presentation.

“I’m not interested in slapping paint and walking away.”

“Nothing could be further from the truth. We’re gonna be providing health care we’re proud of that’s good for the community and good for Takoma Park,” said WAH President Joyce Portela. “I’m not interested in slapping paint and walking away.”
Tatro said that he can’t know how much the project will cost yet, but that using the existing hospital site makes it cost-effective.

From 2007, when AHC proposed moving to White Oak, WAH has faced an outpouring of questions and concerns from the committee, Takoma Park City Council and community members.

“We don’t have some secretive plan related to this campus that we’re not open and willing to share with people,” Portela said. ‘I’m glad the community cares about this place. That bodes well for us providing successful services for the community, and we care deeply about the services we provide.”

Portela added that the move will not only improve health care in the region, but it will ease overcrowding at the Takoma Park campus and increase accessibility to both the hospital and Village.

WAH promises to run a fee-for-service shuttle from Takoma Park to White Oak, although the land use committee has pushed for free transportation.

“I have never in my life lived in a community that has better transportation than what is available in the Washington Metro area. If anything, access is a problem in this community to this campus,” Portela said. “Most of our patients arrive here by private vehicle and have nowhere to park.”

Because the Village won’t be providing the majority of the area’s acute care services, parking and overcrowding won’t be an issue there, she added.

However, AHC has yet to provide details about providing urgent and primary care and the physical appearance of the renovated site , Matthews said, adding that the city wants to ensure they will have an ongoing voice in oversight of the Vllage during the development process.

“We just have a lot of questions, basically, and I think that’s made it difficult for the city to have a comfort level,” Matthews said.

And with a lack of definite details and recent financial woes – WAH closed their family pharmacy in 2009 because it couldn’t break even, according to the WAH-LUC report – some feel the financial viability of the Village is still up in the air.
However, Tatro said he is confident that by drawing in insured patients as well as uninsured with quality services, they will be able to make the center work.

“I run into this all the time, that people that are insured ask me, ‘Can I go to Mary’s Center?’” Tatro said. “We serve everyone, and the way it kind of goes is, for every one insured we can see two uninsured.”.

About the Author

Rebecca Lurye
Rebecca Lurye was a summer 2011 intern at the Voice, covering local news and happenings. She is a junior at the University of Maryland, College Park, where she is studying print journalism and Spanish.