Tuesday, December 22, 2015

WAH, Wah!

Proving that the second time is the charm, at least when it comes to state administrative health care facility reviews, Adventist HealthCare has finally gained approval from the state Health Care Commission to build a new 170 bed, $331 million hospital complex at White Oak.  The facility, scheduled to open in early 2019, will replace the current Washington Adventist Hospital facility in Takoma Park, which originally opened as a sanitarium in 1907.

Somewhat predictably, there has been some moaning and gnashing of teeth in TP about the loss of services.  My favorite response came from the Takoma Voice, which characterized Washington Adventist as "Takoma Park's only hospital," which makes sense for a community with 17,000 residents.  Adventist HealthCare commissioned a study that predictably forecast huge economic benefits for the East County from the move; I think that it will provide the "long-neglected area of the county" with another development anchor in addition to FDA headquarters.  The city of Takoma Park submitted a fairly bleak statement to the state commission that "envision(ed) a dying campus" at the current site after the move.

Some of this may have been a plea for sympathy, but the financial prospects of the Takoma Park site don't look good.  The commission previously rejected a more ambitious proposal for a White Oak hospital with 249 beds in 2012, so the approved proposal retains the hospital's inpatient psychiatric service facilities at Takoma Park for the timebeing.  The 40 bed facility, however, is projected to be a loss leader, and Adventist HealthCare can request that it be transferred to White Oak after five years.  The health care corporation is also required to maintain a 24/7 urgent care facility at Takoma Park, although this requirement could also eventually be reduced or eliminated by the state commission.

From my perspective, the hospital move is inevitable, if not overdue.  The hospital has been built out at the present site for decades.  The hospital needed to move to a larger site, much as Adventist church headquarters moved from Takoma Park to White Oak in 1989 and the once-massive Adventist printing facilities moved from the Takoma section of DC to Hagerstown in 1983 (only to be shuttered earlier this year as the worldwide faith transitions to digital media for its publishing purposes). 

It will be interesting to see what, if anything becomes of the current site.  For a complex that employs 1300 people, the current hospital has remarkably little impact on the surrounding area, in part because adjacent areas have always remained residential.  The fact that there haven't even been functioning sidewalks between the hospital and Washington Adventist University campus and the nearby shopping areas at Flower Avenue and Piney Branch Roads probably hasn't helped either.  I'd like to see the city and county pursue a headquarters for a federal agency at the site when the requirements mandated by the state commission are lifted.  After all, the site will then be within walking distance of multiple Purple Line stops at University and New Hampshire and Piney Branch.  Moreover, such a transition would be consistent with the disposition of its more famous predecessor, the Adventist sanitarium at Battle Creek of Kelloggs and "The Road to Wellville" fame.  It's now the Hart-Dole-Inouye Federal Center, of all things.     

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