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Panel likes Stafford hospital
April 5, 2006 12:51 am


MediCorp Health System was the winner yesterday in round two of the competition to build new hospitals in the Fredericksburg-area.

A regional health planning agency endorsed MediCorp's proposed hospital and rejected the one offered by its rival, HCA Health Services of Virginia.

The board of directors of the Northwestern Virginia Health Systems Agency, meeting in Culpeper, spent about four hours considering the two hospital plans before voting to recommend MediCorp's Stafford Hospital Center.

"We're very pleased," said Fred M. Rankin III, MediCorp's president and chief executive officer, after the vote. "We worked very, very hard to understand what the needs of this community were and the location of where the next expansion should be."

The board members followed their endorsement of MediCorp's plan with a rejection of HCA's proposed Spotsylvania Regional Medical Center at Massaponax.

"I don't think the board fully appreciated the benefits" of the HCA plan, said Mark A. Foust, vice president for marketing. "We look forward to continuing the process."

Yesterday's endorsement was the second for MediCorp. The Rappahannock Health Advisory Council recommended approval of both new hospitals at a hearing last month at the University of Mary Washington.

This time, board members said they could see the need for one, but not two new hospitals.

"We could end up spending a lot of money here," said board member Charlie Horton.

And they said that MediCorp's plan for a 100-bed facility, 10 miles north of Mary Washington Hospital near the county courthouse, was superior.

HCA, a Nashville-based, for-profit corporation, has proposed building its hospital seven miles south of Mary Washington.

"MediCorp has demonstrated, as a not-for-profit hospital, a record of providing community service," said Jack Rowley.

Rowley added that population growth in the Fredericksburg region is fueling the need for additional hospital beds, that expansion at Mary Washington is not practical, that MediCorp has a superior record of charity care, and that Stafford residents have a hard time reaching the present hospital.

"The Rappahannock River is a major barrier," he said.

Rowley is a resident of Stafford and works as a consultant to the paper industry. His motion to endorse the MediCorp application passed 13-9. The vote to recommend rejection of the HCA plan was 14-7.

MediCorp officials said they welcome the endorsements they have received, but the votes do not guarantee that a Stafford hospital will be built.

The applications must now travel to Richmond, where they face two more levels of review. A Health Department analyst will study the plans and recommend one, both or neither. That recommendation is expected in about two weeks.

On May 11, a Health Department hearing officer will hold an "informal fact-finding conference," where both companies get another chance to explain their proposals.

In 2004, MediCorp's plan for a rehabilitation hospital in Fredericksburg won favor at the local and regional levels, as its full-service Stafford hospital project has.

But the tide turned in Richmond, where Dr. Robert Stroube, the state health commissioner, chose the competing rehab hospital plan offered by HealthSouth.

Stroube will again have the final say. He is expected to act on the MediCorp and HCA plans sometime this summer.

In a related development, the Stafford County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a rezoning and a conditional-use permit for the proposed Stafford hospital last night.

MediCorp's proposed site is planned for 70 acres off Courthouse Road and U.S. 1. Thirty-eight acres are zoned agricultural or residential. The rezoning makes that land urban commercial, like the rest of the property.

A conditional-use permit will allow a hospital and medical offices on property zoned urban commercial. It also raises the height limit in that area from 65 to 90 feet for a five-story hospital. The approvals are necessary to show the state health commissioner that the proposed facility could be built on the site.

--Meghann Cotter contributed to this story.

To reach JIM HALL: 540/374-5433
Email: jhall@freelancestar.com

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