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A matter of time for medical center

Posted on Wednesday, May 1, 2013 at 2:07 pm

Last Thursday, officials from Rappahannock General Hospital (RGH) took issue with a ruling on the time frame for a new local medical profession.

But opening a vacant building to a 24-hour service that had yet to be determined was an unwise move, said the Lancaster County board of supervisors.

On April 25, the board voted to extend the hours of operation for the former Family Maternity Center building on 11540 Mary Ball Rd. from 7 a.m.-7 p.m. to 5 a.m.-9 p.m.

No limit was set on how long patients could remain in the building after closing.

But the decision did not wholly satisfy representatives from RGH.

“We would like to have no [time] limit,” said RGH’s Attorney Matson Terry. “Medical science is evolving incredibly rapidly [and] new procedures don’t necessarily fit into a time slot,” adding that illness and the need for medical care really do not follow a time table, and that restricting the hours could pose a great hurdle.

According to Terry, the hospital is considering a range of possible uses for the building, including dialysis, pediatrics, urgent care, oncology and neurology.

On March 28, the board initially voted to limit the hours of operation to 7 a.m.-7 p.m.

Before the decision, Dist. 1 Supervisor and Chairman Butch Jenkins told Terry that emergency doctor visits would not be precluded outside the regular operation hours.

Terry said at the March meeting that he did not think RGH would have any problems with the proposed conditions.

But after RGH shared its more recent concerns with the time restrictions, Planning and Land Use Director Don Gill contacted six dialysis centers within a 30-mile radius of Lancaster County and discovered that one center in Williamsburg operated from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m.

“As a result, staff believes that modifying those hours of operation is acceptable,” said Gill.

Jenkins said he was willing to allow the medical center to treat patients past 9 p.m.

“If they’re in [before 9] and being treated, then the facility will continue the treatment until they’re done,” said Jenkins.

But both he and Dist. 2 Supervisor Ernest Palin preferred not to leave the hours wide-open, and therefore opted to prevent new patients from entering the building after regular hours.

“It still is a residential area and it would be limiting the late-night traffic in there,” said Jenkins.

During public comments, Richard Pleasants, who commented that citizens currently have to travel to RGH for the closest urgent care, did not think the board should impose any hour restrictions on the building.

Ella Davis said there were several seniors in the area who would appreciate a nearby center with beneficial medical services.

“Sickness and cancer have no age,” she said.

Lloyd Hill, of District 4, shared that 13 members of his church were on dialysis and had to travel as far as Tappahannock to meet their needs.

“It would be a tremendous asset to this county if we could service those people right here…and not only for Lancaster, but for Northumberland,” said Hill. “Whatever way we can make it work for these gentlemen, I think we should…because it’s a benefit that our county needs.”

While Jenkins agreed with Hill, he reminded the public that RGH did not know for certain the type of service they would be bringing to the building.

George Bott, a licensed septic installer whose wife was a dialysis nurse, did not see a dialysis clinic as a viable option for the facility as the clinics used a “tremendous amount of water” and were typically located along town-controlled water and sewer systems.

Palin said the board could revisit their decision if RGH found that the business needed to change or extend its hours.

In other news, the board directed the planning commission to craft zoning ordinance language allowing citizens to place internet data poles on their property by-right, but with appropriate setbacks.

Jenkins, the board liaison to the planning commission, recommended the allowance despite the planning commission’s proposal to retain the process of having citizens apply for the poles with a special exception.

“We should be able to come up with something reasonable,” said Jenkins.  The ability to provide hi-speed access to the internet is critical [and] less government is the best government.”

The application process currently includes a $200 fee to cover advertising costs and a public hearing.

Gill said the hearings granted adjoining property owners an opportunity to voice any objections or concerns regarding the poles. But Gill added that, based on past history, there had not been any real opposition to them from the public.

Dist. 3 Supervisor Jason Bellows said that if the county could lower the fee, then the result would be “an investment in the community.”

Gill said his challenge would be creating setbacks in the ordinance that kept poles far enough off property lines so as to not affect adjoining property owners.

“If those setbacks cannot be met, then it will require a special exception,” Gill said.