Hospital Construction Proposal Provokes Community Criticism

Construction proposals and community activism have always gone hand in hand in Cambridge and Mount Auburn Hospital's plan to modernize several of its facilities is proving once again that you can't have the first without the second in this city.

The $45-million proposal--tagged Operation 2000 by the hospital--has ignited criticism from nearby residents in the neighborhood west of Harvard Square who charge that it will cost them in terms of money and convenience.

But construction of a new in-patient wing and parking deck, remodeling of the obstetrics and psychiatry units, and improvement of outpatient facilities cannot begin until a state board approves the project as necessary to the community.

The plans have raised community concern on the grounds that they might raise taxes and increase traffic congestion in the area near the 300-bed hospital, located at 330 Mt. Auburn St.

According to City Councilor Francis H. Duehay '55, a remodeled Mount Auburn Hospital may draw paying patients from Cambridge City Hospital, which needs these people to offset the debt it incurs by serving poor, non-paying residents. Cambridge taxpayers would bear the burden of this increased debt, added Duehay, a member of the Mount Auburn Taxpayers Association.

Another neighborhood group opposes the hospital's expansion for different reasons. The construction would cause "catastrophic problems in parking and traffic" in the area, said John Brode '52, president of the Neighborhood 10 Association.

Too Old

But with its current facilities, some of which date back to 1886, Mount Auburn cannot provide its own patients with the services they need, said Peter M. Gerace, vice president for community relations and development. The hospital official said the proposed renovations are not expansionistic because only an eight bed increase will result.

Rather than causing a parking shortage, the proposal would leave the hospital with excess parking spaces, Gerace said. In addition, the hospital has increased available parking space at nearby lots and encouraged employees to take public transportation to work.

Neighborhood 10's Brode said that while the final outcome might be excess parking, traffic congestion during construction would be heavy because building the new parking deck is the last leg of the hospital's construction.

Despite approval from the Secretary of Environmental Affairs as satisfactory, the Mount Auburn Hospital plans have been criticized as inadequately dealing with environmental issues such as traffic and parking. The Mt. Auburn Taxpayers Association has filed an intent to appeal the Secretary's decision, said Lawrence Kotin, the group's attorney.

The citizen group's primary objection to Operation 2000, however, is that "Mount Auburn has not done sufficient explicit planning with other health organizations in the city" to determine if there is a need for increased services, said Duchay.

"We can't have hospitals planning in a vacuum," he added.

Both the State Determination of Need office and Cambridge's Health Policy Board will examine Mount Auburn's case in upcoming months to determine whether or not modernization is necessary.