For the first time since it was established by Inova Health System more than a year ago, the Southeast Health Planning Task Force has elected one of its own as co-chairman.
At its Nov. 19 meeting, 11 of the 18 voting members indicated they wanted "someone who had been present from the start and was familiar with the Mount Vernon area and its citizenry." That was how Anne A. Andrews described her election to the newly created position.
"We were uncomfortable with the fact that our new chairman had been picked by Inova and was not that familiar with the Mount Vernon area," Andrews explained. "Our previous chairman had been with us since the start of the Task Force and was a Mount Vernon citizen."
WARREN CIKINS, the original Task Force chairman, resigned on Oct. 2. He was replaced by Frederick W. Sacks Jr. of Alexandria, a member of the Inova Health System Board of Trustees. That decision was made by Inova without consultation with the Task Force.
The purpose of the Task Force is to evaluate the operations of the hospital and make a recommendation as to its future. Wednesday night's meeting at the hospital was the first under Sachs' chairmanship.
However, this action, to establish a position of co-chairman, did not change the Task Force's long standing position to keep the majority of their meetings closed to the press and general public. That was reinforced by a second vote which carried by a 9-1 majority of those members present and voting at that time, according to Andrews.
"We feel it facilitates discussion if the meetings are closed. There was a certain amount of posturing by some members when the press was present," she said.
"Besides we have nothing to share with the public as of yet. Up to now we have done nothing of a substantive nature. It's been mainly procedural and informational," Andrews explained.
SACHS HAD indicated prior to the start of the meeting that he was opened-minded about whether the meetings would remain closed or open. "I intend to bring it up for a vote and let them [the members] decide," he said.
Following the meeting he explained, "I did what I promised and brought it up for a vote. They decided they wanted discussions to remain closed at this time."
"I think it's a very productive undertaking [the work of the Task Force] and I'm pleased to have a co-chair," Sachs said.
According to Andrews, the Task Force also voted to make their final report available to the public as well as to Inova.
"We didn't refine whether that will take place simultaneously or not. But, we do not want to keep our findings from the public," Andrews said.
Since its inception, the Task Force has come under criticism that it is merely a rubber stamp for Inova and, more particularly, IHS's President and CEO J. Knox Singleton. The fear expressed by many is that Inova is searching for a way to justify either closing the hospital or greatly reducing its medical services in order to build a new facility in the Lorton area.
THIS CONCERN has given birth to a populace organization known as the Citizens Alliance Rescue Effort (CARE) with the goal of keeping IMVH not only operative but also to enhance its medical services and capabilities. The coalition was formed under the aegis of Mount Vernon District Supervisor Gerald W. Hyland and includes Lee District Supervisor Dana Kauffman.
CARE's Executive Committees contains several members of the Task Force and various physicians who practice at Mount Vernon Hospital. Andrews, who has served for 28 years as the Convener of the Route 1 Task Force for Human Services, is active in CARE.
Hyland has been an outspoken critic of Inova's supposed manipulation of the Task Force. That was exacerbated when Cikins resigned.
"I believe the Task Force should elect their own chairman and not have one imposed upon them," Hyland said at the time.
Other Task Force members who serve on CARE's Executive Committee are former State Sen. Joseph V. Gartlan, Jr.; former U.S. Rep. Herbert E. Harris, II; Dr. Khosrow Matini, former president, IMVH medical staff; Louise Cleveland, Health and Human Service Committee, Mount Vernon Council; Queenie Cox, Co-Chair, MVCCA; and Dr. Howard M. Lando, vice president, IMVH medical staff.