University of Maryland Medical Center, Baltimore. Photo by UMMC.

A recently announced healthcare partnership could bring a much-needed new regional medical center to central Prince George’s County. However, at least one commentator is floating suggestions for a massive sprawling complex instead of a compact campus located near one of the county’s many barren Metro Stations.

Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, Lieutenant Governor Anthony Brown, Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker III and other state and local officials announced the partnership agreement during a recent press event in Upper Marlboro.

It is the latest and most promising effort in what has been a multi-year attempt to stabilize the delivery of quality healthcare in Prince George’s County and to improve residents’ access to primary and emergency care across the region.

Currently, the financially strapped and poorly managed Prince George’s Hospital Center (PGHC) in Cheverly is the only trauma center serving southern Maryland, including Prince George’s, Calvert, Charles, and St. Mary’s Counties.

The partnership, which involves the University of Maryland Medical System (UMMS) and Dimensions Healthcare, seeks to develop and implement a strategy that will bring a new state-of-the art regional medical center to central Prince George’s County.

The new hospital will be supported by a comprehensive ambulatory care network, including the existing PGHC facility in Cheverly. An initial study by UMMS estimates that it will cost $600 million to implement this new strategy.

Barry Rascovar, a communications consultant and state legislative columnist, correctly notes in a recent Gazette op-ed that this partnership agreement is only a first step, albeit an important one, to realizing the goal of a new regional healthcare center. However, one assumption that he makes is rather alarming for those of us who value the ideas of TOD, environmental sustainability, urban revitalization and sprawl avoidance.

Rascovar posits that the success of the new facility “assumes 100 acres of land can be found in the central part of the county, preferably near the Capital Beltway and US Route 50.” One hundred acres? Really?

It is unclear upon what authority Rascovar is basing his assumption. The 100-acre requirement does not appear in the partnership agreement, and I could not find any statement from UMMS, the state, or the county imposing such a requirement. Forcing the hospital to be located on such vast acreage would almost guarantee that it could not be placed near an existing Metro station in central Prince George’s County.

Fortunately, there are countless examples of urban regional medical centers being built on substantially fewer than 100 acres, and near rapid transit stations. New York City’s Columbia University Medical Center, for example, is located on 20 acres in uptown Manhattan, immediately adjacent to the 168th Street subway station. The George Washington University Hospital, located next to the Foggy Bottom Metro Station in northwest DC, is on substantially less than 20 acres. GW’s entire downtown campus, including the hospital, occupies less than 45 acres.

Instead of trying to find 100 acres of nonexistent land next to the Beltway and US-50 for this new regional medical center, why not locate it at the Morgan Boulevard Metro station, on the Blue Line? Aside from Redskins games and other FedEx Field events, the station gets very little use. WMATA actually proposed closing the station on weekends in 2010 due to very low daily ridership.

Google Map image showing the undeveloped location around the Morgan Boulevard station.

As you can see from the above map, the Morgan Boulevard station sits virtually undeveloped on 56 acres, at the corner of two existing major arterial roads—Central Avenue (MD-214) and Garrett A. Morgan Boulevard / Ritchie Road. It is also within one mile of the Capital Beltway, and within central Prince George’s County. As such, it meets all the major location criteria that state and local officials have articulated for the new regional hospital facility.

The site is fully accessible to cars and would require no expensive new roadways and interchanges, thus making it a more economical option. There is space enough to build hospital facilities more than twice the size of the Columbia University Medical Center.

Moreover, the hospital would be convenient to patients, visitors, and staff who don’t own and/or can’t afford automobiles. This is fully consistent with the mission of the partnership agreement to provide high-quality, affordable, and accessible healthcare to the region’s residents.

Over time, the influx of skilled professionals coming daily to Morgan Boulevard will create increased demand for quality housing and retail amenities throughout the Central Avenue corridor, and particularly at the nearby Addison Road and Largo Town Center stations.

In short, locating the new Prince George’s regional medical center near existing rapid transit at Morgan Boulevard will prove to be both an economic boon to the county and a better service to the region’s residents. Who could argue with that?

Bradley Heard is an attorney and citizen activist who resides in the Capitol Heights area of Prince George’s County. A native of Virginia Beach and former longtime Atlanta resident, Brad hopes to encourage high-quality, walkable and bikeable development in the inner Beltway region of Prince George’s County.