- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 19, 2011

Opponents say they have not exhausted their options for fighting a proposal to build a Catholic hospital on the grounds of Montgomery College in Germantown, despite approval of the plan last week by the state Board of Public Works.

The three-member board voted Wednesday to allow Montgomery College to lease land to Holy Cross Hospital for a new 93-bed, $202-million hospital. Holy Cross, which already has a location in Silver Spring, could break ground this fall and finish the project by 2014.

The planned hospital must still be approved by the county Planning Board — a process that will give opponents another chance to testify against the project, which was approved in January by the Maryland Health Care Commission after a more-than-two-year competition with another hospital proposal.

The project has been criticized by women’s groups and others who contend the college could violate separation-of-church-and-state laws by leasing public land to Holy Cross, which typically refuses on religious grounds to perform abortions and infertility treatments or provide birth control.

“It would be the first hospital built in more than 30 years in Montgomery County and would not provide the full range of services to patients,” said Beth Corbin, field director for Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

She said her group, which testified at the Wednesday public works meeting, will continue its opposition and is “weighing its options,” but declined to say whether it will initiate legal action to block the project.

The Holy Cross proposal was chosen in January over one by Adventist HealthCare to build an 86-bed, $187-million hospital in nearby Clarksburg.

Some county and state officials preferred the Clarksburg proposal, arguing that the area — about five miles north of Germantown — has a greater need for a hospital and would be better able to handle traffic. The nearest medical facility to either location is Germantown’s Shady Grove Adventist Emergency Center, about a mile west of Montgomery College.

While officials including State Sen. Jennie M. Forehand, Montgomery Democrat, complained mostly about the proposed Holy Cross location, activists argued its limited pregnancy services could harm women and be potentially illegal.

Linda Mahoney, president of the Maryland National Organization for Women, worried Holy Cross could overlook many of the advances in birth control, fertility and end-of-life services that have come about in the three decades since the county last had a new hospital.

“We look at this as a terrible precedent going forward,” she said.

Holy Cross Chief Executive Officer Kevin J. Sexton eschewed concerns over the hospital’s refusal of certain procedures, saying Holy Cross still provides the broadest range of service in the county.

He said a hospital providing every possible medical service would be practically impossible and that procedures not found at Holy Cross are “widely available” elsewhere.

He added that the planned hospital has many advantages over the Clarksburg proposal, including its proximity to a larger population center in Germantown, as well as its expected use as a teaching hospital for Montgomery College’s nursing program.

“Holy Cross Hospital is a hospital like any other hospital in the state,” Mr. Sexton said. “Of the services that are really needed, no one does more.”