Pro­posed hos­pi­tal to put feet first

Pedes­trian-friendly Prince Ge­orge’s fa­cil­ity would cost $650 mil­lion

The Washington Post Sunday - - METRO - BY LUZ LAZO

It could be at least four years be­fore a pro­posed re­gional hos­pi­tal and med­i­cal cam­pus opens at Largo Town Cen­ter, but the cen­tral Prince Ge­orge’s com­mu­nity is al­ready brac­ing for a de­vel­op­ment that could boost health-care op­tions as well as the over­all lo­cal econ­omy.

Of­fi­cials hope it lives up to their vi­sion of cre­at­ing a more ur­ban, pedes­trian-friendly com­mu­nity.

The $650 mil­lion, 231-bed hos­pi­tal, which is un­der state and county re­view, prom­ises to de­liver a more ur­ban street grid with smaller blocks to en­cour­age foot and bi­cy­cle travel around what is pri­mar­ily a car-ori­ented Metro sta­tion just out­side the Cap­i­tal Belt­way.

Res­i­dents and transit ad­vo­cates say the pro­ject, which has a ten­ta­tive 2019 open­ing, can’t come soon enough to an area known for its big boule­vards, gi­ant park­ing lots and bus stops on side­walk-free roads. They say the pro­posal of­fers the type of tran­si­to­ri­ented de­vel­op­ment that they have long sought.

“We have fought this bat­tle for more years than I care to think about. This plan brings us far closer to where we need to be,” Chuck Ren­ninger, pres­i­dent of the Largo Civic As­so­ci­a­tion, told county of­fi­cials dis­cussing the pro­ject last month. “We need to get phase one up and op­er­a­tional as quickly as pos­si­ble so that phase two and three can come quick enough.”

Re­cently, the pro­ject re­ceived the county plan­ning com­mis­sion’s bless­ing to move to­ward con­struc­tion, an im­por­tant step in the county’s land-use ap­proval

process. The re­al­iza­tion of the pro­ject, how­ever, is still con­tin­gent on a cru­cial state re­view that has al­ready dragged on for a year longer than the county had hoped.

Mary­land’s health-care com­mis­sion must sign off on a “cer­tifi­cate of need,” which in­cludes de­sign plans and fi­nan­cial pro­jec­tions. Af­ter go­ing back and forth with the ap­pli­cant for a year, the com­mis­sion fi­nally dock­eted the case in April and the panel is weigh­ing the needs, ben­e­fits and com­pe­ti­tion cre­ated by build­ing the hos­pi­tal. As part of the re­view, the com­mis­sion is con­sid­er­ing the con­cerns of two hos­pi­tals protest­ing the pro­ject’s scale.

A step to sway sta­tis­tics

For the county, how­ever, build­ing the med­i­cal fa­cil­ity is the first step in rem­e­dy­ing press­ing health-care dis­par­i­ties for its res­i­dents, who have long com­plained about hav­ing to travel out­side the county for care be­cause of the lim­ited op­tions.

The new fa­cil­ity, which would be op­er­ated by the Univer­sity of Mary­land Med­i­cal Sys­tem, would help tackle sta­tis­tics that show Prince Ge­orge’s res­i­dents have higher rates of chronic dis­eases— in­clud­ing di­a­betes, heart dis­ease, hy­per­ten­sion, asthma and can­cer — than peo­ple in neigh­bor­ing coun­ties. Stud­ies also sug­gest that the county’s mor­tal­ity rate is higher than that of Mont­gomery and Howard coun­ties.

The new med­i­cal cam­pus would re­place the 100-bed Prince Ge­orge’s Hos­pi­tal Cen­ter in Chev­erly, which has strug­gled fi­nan­cially and re­quires fre­quent sub­si­dies from the state and county. It would have a 10-story build­ing at the cen­ter, hous­ing an am­bu­la­tory care cen­ter, a can­cer cen­ter, a women-and-chil­dren’s cen­ter and a res­i­dent pro­gram.

The pro­ject “rep­re­sents turn­ing a page on a chap­ter that has been, in a lot ofways, a drag on the county,” Brad Frome, an eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment aide to County Ex­ec­u­tive Rush­ern L. Baker III (D), told the plan­ning com­mis­sion last month, cit­ing the con­di­tions of the ex­ist­ing hos­pi­tal. “This is re­ally a foun­da­tion stone for the cre­ation of a new health-care sys­tem thatwe look to have in the county.”

Later phases would bring more med­i­cal of­fices, a nurs­ing home, ho­tels and more hous­ing around it, of­fi­cials say, tout­ing the pro­ject as a driver for eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment promis­ing to re­vive the Boule­vard at the Cap­i­tal Cen­tre, which has strug­gled for years to fill and keep store­fronts open.

The hos­pi­tal pro­ject could spur $3 bil­lion in eco­nomic ac­tiv­ity for Prince Ge­orge’s, ac­cord­ing to a re­cent re­port that sug­gests it could help build a mixed-use de­vel­op­ment around the Largo Town Cen­ter Metro sta­tion that in­cludes about 3 mil­lion square feet of com­mer­cial space, nearly 1 mil­lion square feet of re­tail, 653 ho­tel rooms, a 150-bed nurs­ing home and more than 4,000 residential units.

At build-out, that means $150 mil­lion in state and lo­cal tax rev­enue, 16,000 new jobs and 4,340 house­holds with an es­ti­mated $312.5 mil­lion in in­come, ac­cord­ing to the re­port.

Ap­proval hur­dles

The pro­ject is ex­pected to move through the county’s ap­proval process with­out de­lay by early fall, which leaves state ap­proval as the main hur­dle be­tween now and its pro­jected 2019 open­ing.

The state com­mis­sion dock­eted the case in April. A com­mis­sioner is ex­pected to re­view it soon and could make a rec­om­men­da­tion by the end of the year.

As part of its re­view, the com­mis­sion is con­sid­er­ing com­ments from Doc­tors Com­mu­nity Hos­pi­tal and Anne Arun­del Med­i­cal Cen­ter. Both op­pose the size of the pro­ject, cit­ing its po­ten­tial im­pact on their oper­a­tions.

Doc­tors Com­mu­nity, a 218-bed fa­cil­ity in Lan­ham, about six miles from the pro­posed med­i­cal cen­ter, es­ti­mates that it would lose nearly 400 ad­mis­sions an­nu­ally. Fewer ad­mis­sions could lead to a short­fall of more than $1 mil­lion an­nu­ally, the hos­pi­tal said.

“A new hos­pi­tal is needed, but the right hos­pi­tal, not this pro­posal,” Doc­tors Com­mu­nity at­tor­neys Peter P. Parvis and Jen­nifer J. Coyne said in a May 4 let­ter to the state panel. The Prince Ge­orge’s Re­gional Med­i­cal Cen­ter “did not meet its bur­den of prov­ing that the need for a hos­pi­tal this large and this ex­pen­sive ex­ists, or that the hos­pi­tal is fi­nan­cially fea­si­ble.”

Anne Arun­del Med­i­cal Cen­ter, the third-busiest hos­pi­tal in Mary­land with 384 beds and an emer­gency heart-at­tack-re­sponse cen­ter about 22 miles east of the Largo site, cites the county’s “dif­fi­culty at­tract­ing and re­tain­ing a strong med­i­cal com­mu­nity of physi­cians.” The cen­ter es­ti­mates the pro­ject will re­sult in 420 fewer dis­charges and ques­tions the pro­posed car­diac surgery ser­vices at the new fa­cil­ity.

Thomas Himler, bud­get di­rec­tor for Prince Ge­orge’s, said the new fa­cil­ity hopes to at­tract county res­i­dents who seek med­i­cal care else­where in Mary­land, the Dis­trict and North­ern Vir­ginia. De­spite the ob­jec­tions of the two com­pet­ing hos­pi­tals, he said, the county ex­pects ap­proval by the end of the year.

The med­i­cal cen­ter is tied to about 26 acres im­me­di­ately east of the Boule­vard at the Cap­i­tal Cen­tre, ad­ja­cent to the Largo Town Cen­ter Metro sta­tion and just off the Cap­i­tal Belt­way, north of Cen­tral Av­enue. It would be funded with $450 mil­lion in bond fi­nanc­ing, in­clud­ing about $200 mil­lion each from the state and the county.

Transit po­ten­tial

At the cen­ter of all that growth is the Metro sta­tion, which opened in 2004 as the Blue Line’s eastern-most ter­mi­nal. The new Sil­ver Line also ends there. Although the sta­tion now ranks in the bot­tom half in the sys­tem in terms of per­for­mance and has nearly 5,000 daily pas­sen­ger board­ings, it has the ca­pac­ity to han­dle sig­nif­i­cant rid­er­ship growth, of­fi­cials say.

Largo has the po­ten­tial to be an ex­am­ple of suc­cess­ful tran­si­to­ri­ented de­vel­op­ment in a county that has 15 vastly un­der­de­vel­oped Metro sta­tions, plan­ners and transit of­fi­cials say. The com­mu­nity could de­velop into a down­town like area sim­i­lar to Sil­ver Spring, with a large med­i­cal com­mu­nity an­chor­ing di­verse busi­ness and hous­ing op­tions. The hous­ing stock is al­ready grow­ing, with at least one mul­ti­fam­ily com­plex un­der con­struc­tion across the street from the hos­pi­tal site.

Hav­ing the hos­pi­tal less than a quar­ter-mile from the Metro plat­form would make it an at­trac­tive choice for work­ers and pa­tients, of­fi­cials say.

Mar­garet Bowles, 75, a re­tired teacher who lives about three miles from the hos­pi­tal site, said she goes to Holy Cross Hos­pi­tal in Mont­gomery County for spe­cialty care and has friends who travel to the Dis­trict for health care.

“Peo­ple go down to Ge­orge Washington [Univer­sity Med­i­cal Cen­ter] and they never take their car. They hop on the Metro and go down­town be­cause the Metro stop is right there. It is per­fect,” she said. “Be­fore this pro­ject, we had not had the vi­sion that we prob­a­bly should have for de­vel­op­ment around the Metro sta­tion.”

The suc­cess, she said, hinges on build­ing it right, with pedes­tri­ans, cy­clists and mo­torists in mind.

The county-ap­proved plan calls for side­walks along both sides of the Boule­vard, Arena Drive and Lotts­ford Road. Pedes­trian plazas, seat­ing ar­eas and bi­cy­cle path­ways also are part of the de­sign. County plan­ners said the streets will be nar­row to foster a pedes­trian-friendly en­vi­ron­ment.

Ad­vo­cates for transit-ori­ented de­vel­op­ment, in­clud­ing Metro and the non­profit Coali­tion for Smarter Growth, have pushed for wide, well-lit path­ways con­nect­ing the sta­tion to the hos­pi­tal and the sur­round­ing com­mer­cial spa­ces to make it as easy as pos­si­ble for work­ers and pa­tients to take transit.

“Hav­ing a very large em­ploy­ment cen­ter at the sta­tion will ab­so­lutely change that rid­er­ship at Largo,” said Stan Wall, Metro’s di­rec­tor of real es­tate and plan­ning, not­ing that the pro­ject also could ben­e­fit Metro’s plans to even­tu­ally de­velop 12 acres of land it owns at the site.

The med­i­cal cen­ter alone could gen­er­ate 650 new daily en­tries at the Metro sta­tion, ac­cord­ing to the transit agency’s of­fice of plan­ning. That would mean $750,000 in new rev­enue for the transit agency. But even more riders and rev­enue would stem from the de­vel­op­ment that would fol­low the hos­pi­tal con­struc­tion, Wall said.

Ch­eryl Cort, pol­icy di­rec­tor for the Coali­tion for Smarter Growth, agrees that keep­ing in mind the pedes­trian and bike traf­fic will en­sure good cir­cu­la­tion be­tween the hos­pi­tal’s front door, Metro and the shops at the Boule­vard at the Cap­i­tal Cen­tre.

“We want tomake sure it’s done to the full ben­e­fit,” she said.

DI­MEN­SIONS HEALTHCARE SYS­TEM

The pro­posed Prince Ge­orge’s Re­gion­alMed­i­cal Cen­ter is op­posed by com­pet­ing area hos­pi­tals.

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