BY BILL BROWN
Takoma Park expressed “disappointment” that its only hospital has been given the green light to relocate.
The city’s comment followed a state commissioner’s Nov. 18 “recommended decision” to allow the Washington Adventist Hospital’s proposed move from Takoma Park to White Oak.
Hospitals in Maryland have to obtain state government permission to move. They must apply to the Maryland Health Care Commission. One of the commissioners reviews the plan and makes a recommendation – which the commission usually follows.
This is WAH’s second review. The reviewing commissioner denied the first in September 2013.
The city was disappointed that this time the commissioner did not require WAH to leave an emergency room facility in Takoma Park.
The commissioner, Frances B. Phillips, however, did require an urgent health care center,”I have recommended that a condition regarding the proposed urgent care center be placed on AHC’s Certificate of Need to address concerns that I share with the City of Takoma Park.”
An “urgent care center” does not provide as full a service as an emergency room. Urgent care centers don’t accept people with broken bones, deep cuts, head or eye injuries, severe flu symptoms, high fevers, loss of consciousness, serious burns, seizures or large open wounds.
Instead, they offer services similar to those of a doctor’s office.
Takoma Park’s biggest concern is the loss of the nearby emergency room. The commissioner’s recommendation says, “It will increase the distance to a general hospital campus for the population living near the existing Takoma Park campus but this change will not leave this population at a great distance from alternative hospitals or the new WAH hospital site.”
City activists have been outspoken on this point, urging the city to push harder for a free-standing emergency room. In an Oct. 26 open letter, Dave Paris, the former Washington Adventist Hospital Land Use Committee co-chair warned that planned White Oak development could cause traffic gridlock, slowing ambulances. He said that in a medical emergency, minutes matter.
The city statement says, “The City and community has advocated that a Freestanding Medical Facility (stand-alone emergency department) be located on the Takoma Park campus. State regulations related to Freestanding Medical Facilities are in development. Washington Adventist Hospital has pledged to seriously consider requesting authorization to establish such a facility, if such a facility is financially feasible.”
The hospital plans to expand and renovate its inpatient psychiatric facilities on the existing WAH campus and to re-license those facilities as a special psychiatric hospital. It will be operated by the Adventist Behavioral Health division of Adventist Health Care.
Early in the review process the city applied for “participating entity” status which gives it a limited role. However, commissioner Phillips made a point of exceeding those limits, offering Takoma Park an opportunity to comment on the recent decision.
“I note that, because a participating entity does not have a right of judicial appeal, Commission regulations do not grant a participating entity the right to file exceptions to a Recommended Decision. Despite this, I would like the City of Takoma Park, a participating entity in this review, to file comments on my Recommended Decision, if it desires, as long as it does so by the deadline for interested parties to file exceptions.”
Phillips points out that the city could make an oral presentation to the commission. It is limited to ten minutes, unless extended by the meeting’s chair.
The deadline to submit exceptions is Dec. 2. The exceptions hearing is Dec. 17.
The council is scheduled to discuss the issue in a closed session, Monday Nov. 24.