June 16, 2011

Controversy over religion, location for planned new Montgomery County hospital

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By Megan Poinski
Megan@MarylandReporter.com

With a stern warning from Treasurer Nancy Kopp that the Board of Public Works would be watching closely, members unanimously approved a long-term lease that would make a new 93-bed Holy Cross Hospital the anchor of the Montgomery College Science and Technology Park in Germantown.

The 90-year lease, worth $7.9 million, needed to be approved by the Board of Public Works – made up of Kopp, Comptroller Peter Franchot, and Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, who sat in for Gov. Martin O’Malley on Wednesday – because it is located on college-owned land.

doctor and patientMontgomery College President DeRionne Pollard said that the new facility will help expand the college’s educational opportunities. With the new hospital, she said, the nursing program will double and students will have several more options to do their clinical rotations. Additionally, Holy Cross President and CEO Kevin Sexton said, it would be an important center for health care for the under-served northern portion of Montgomery County.

“We’re looking at the area with the highest number of people, and the highest density in the county without a hospital,” Sexton said.

But the Silver Spring hospital is affiliated with the Catholic church and does not provide several standard health care services that are against its religious beliefs. With the hospital on government land and operating so closely with the community college, opponents at the meeting said that it might violate the separation of church and state.

Opponents were concerned that the hospital would not perform many reproductive health services – especially those dealing with contraception. While the hospital would treat patients with AIDS, they may not counsel them to use condoms. If a woman came in reporting a rape, she may not be given emergency contraception.

“This facility has the potential to impede health care access rather than advance it,” said Jill Morrison, who appeared on behalf of the Montgomery County Complete Care Coalition.

Location, location, location
Sexton said placing a new hospital in the middle of a science and technology park would do much to further technology and provide more opportunities for students.

The hospital has been in the works for years, and it took two and a half years for it to be granted state approval to operate there.

Sexton said the oldest people in the county live in the Germantown area, and more hospital beds will be needed in the future as the population continues to age. Additionally, the Germantown area has the fewest jobs. According to an economic study done last year by the Sage Group, the science and technology park, with a hospital at the center, will create 5,700 jobs.

“This is a way to reverse the trend,” Sexton said.

But Sen. Jennie Forehand, D-Rockville, was not sure that the location was the best. She spoke only for herself, but said she had spoken to other Montgomery County senators about the project. Forehand, whose first foray into politics was in health care planning, said she felt a new hospital should be built closer to Clarksburg, an area of more growth. Less than a mile from this site, Adventist Hospital built an emergency care center several years ago.

“I saw very little of the planning we did years ago,” she said.

Church and state
Morrison and Linda Mahoney, state president of the Maryland chapter of the National Organization for Women, objected to the religious limitations on care at Holy Cross.

Mahoney said that there have been no new hospitals licensed in Montgomery County in the last 30 years – since the AIDS virus, advances in contraception, and the ability to keep someone alive on a life support machine. Religion should not come into these kinds of treatments, she said.

“We need full-service health care coming into that area,” she said.

Pollard said that as far as curriculum, Montgomery College students learn about care based on nationally approved standards, and any religious limitations att Holy Cross Hospital are not part of what they will learn in the classroom.

Sexton argued that Holy Cross offers many services, and gives more care to women in need than any other facility in Montgomery County. He skirted direct questions asking if the hospital would perform some procedures or give advice that may violate religious beliefs, saying that the hospital tries to save every life, and there are many services that are performed in outpatient clinics.

“No hospital provides all services,” he said. “No hospital in Montgomery County provides more than 70% of services that might be recommended. But the services we don’t provide are extremely limited.”

Sexton added that medical professionals are free to advise patients however they wish, and are not prohibited by the hospital from talk about treatment and prevention options.

Franchot asked if the board could put requirements on the hospital to provide certain services, especially to women. Sexton replied that the requirements are not germane or significant, and could put the whole project in jeopardy.

  • myoponly

    Why in this day and age do we even have (religious based) hospitals like Adventist or Holy Cross? They need to stay out of the healthcare business period. Frankly, I don’t want them on government land.

  • KAZ-2Y5

    When will people realize ‘Separation of Church and State’ is NOT a law or in any U.S. document? It is a typical Leftist myth which they’re able to use still quite successfully.