Hospital rezoning approved amid continued protests

FRONT ROYAL – The Front Royal Town Council approved the new Warren Memorial Hospital’s rezoning application at its regular Monday meeting.

This comes after two public hearings and several hours worth of comments by concerned citizens over the facility’s lack of obstetrics unit.

The rezoning, which shifted the 147-acre parcel slated to hold the new hospital from an agriculture to a mixed-use campus, passed 5-0 with Councilman Jacob Meza abstaining due to his employment with Valley Health.

Councilman John Connolly said he voted in favor of the rezoning because Virginia law states that any amenities or special features submitted while an applicant seeks rezoning must be voluntary. Voting against rezoning because of the absence of an obstetrics unit, he said, would breach the oath he swore upon taking office to uphold Virginia law.

Connolly said that if he voted against the rezoning because there was no obstetrics unit offered, he would be breaking a promise he made before God.

“That’s something that’s very troubling for me, and I cannot do that,” he said.

Although the rezoning passed, the council joined the Warren County Board of Supervisors in approving a resolution urging Valley Health to reconsider adding an obstetrics unit.

Connolly expressed frustration with Valley Health’s decision, which he said is “regrettable” and “lamentable.”

Councilman Eugene Tewalt said a birthing center is “vital” for the community and hopefully Valley Health will reconsider.

“This is very important to our community…NOVA is not that far away, and I think you will lose patients,” he said.

Councilman William Sealock expressed concern that the Town Council has become the subject of the public’s distaste over a decision made solely by Valley Health. He added that “the public relations at Warren Memorial Hospital is very poor. We get to this event where the emotions are so high that emotions take over decision making.”

Before Monday’s vote approved the rezoning, 15 citizens spoke about the hospital during the council’s public presentation, 13 of whom were concerned about the absence of an obstetrics unit. The two speakers who spoke favorably of the new hospital were Valley Health CEO and President Mark Merrill and Warren Memorial Hospital President Floyd Heater.

Sentiments shared Monday from both sides were recycled from previous public hearings and public presentation periods.

Robert Adanitsch told the council to “stand up and do what’s right…I’m calling each and every one of you out.” He said a vote in favor of the rezoning is “effectively leading the town down.”

“I’ve heard Councilman Connolly say it’s against state code to vote against this, that you guys have to approve the zoning. What does it cost you not to approve the zoning? Does it cost you anything to vote no? I don’t think it does,” Adanitsch said.

Melanie Salins, co-founder of Birth Local, noted that cardiac catheterizations labs are “cash cows” and the decision to add such a lab locally shows Valley Health places profit before patients.

“At least give our town the respect that we deserve and tell us the truth, that your decision is based off of greed and you don’t care what we actually need,” she said.

Heater said the decision to not include an obstetrics unit “was not made overnight” and Valley Health considered a variety of statistics to make what it feels is the best choice. Those statistics include predictions that the 45-year-old to 65-year-old population will grow the most through 2023 and that one-third of Warren County mothers already travel to Winchester to deliver babies.

Merrill noted that Warren Memorial Hospital has had difficulty in recruiting OBGYN nurses over the last decade, whereas Winchester is staffed 24 hours every day with OBGYN nurses. He added that Warren Memorial Hospital would continue providing prenatal care, which is “essential” in avoiding birthing complications.