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Association honors hospital CEO

July 28, 1997

By MARLO BARNHART

Staff Writer

When Horace W. Murphy came to Hagerstown 20 years ago, Washington County Hospital was a big tan building in the center of town.

"But a hospital is not just facilities, bank accounts and bucks. We are in the business of caring and compassion and services," Murphy said.

In the 1970s, health care was changing rapidly and Murphy's job was to make sure Washington County Hospital was up to the challenge.

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His vision of the hospital's mission has helped the hospital mature into a robust system of health services operating throughout Washington County, not just at 251 E. Antietam St.

And it's all done so cost-effectively that only five of Maryland's 53 hospitals can do what Washington County Hospital does at lower costs to patients, said John Costopoulos, director of planning and community relations.

Murphy's work hasn't gone unnoticed. He recently received the Maryland Hospital Association's 1997 distinguished service award.

"I'm a significant minority in my business field, staying at one hospital for 20 years,'' said Murphy, president and chief executive officer of the Washington County Hospital.

Named an assistant administrator in 1976, Murphy progressed to administrator of operations in two years and to CEO in 1980.

"Hopefully, there has been some competence on my part,'' Murphy said.

He said he credited a staff that shares his vision and a board of directors willing to take risks.

"They have seen the need to move in the direction we've gone,'' Murphy said.

That direction included moving hospital services from a central location out into the communities where people live and work.

The look and function of the central hospital building was revamped, beginning in 1980 when the J Wing opened to house emergency, trauma and critical care services.

Also that year, Antietam Health Services was created to emphasize diversification, pharmacies, mobile X-ray units and physician practices.

Home health care was created in 1984, again with the intent of taking services to the people.

"We know what the community wants and we are very much a part of that community,'' Murphy said.

He said the changes have been hard work but the hospital staff and board have been up to the challenge.

He said that the changes over the years have followed a time line that made sense. "We were not trendy or ready to jump on the first glitzy thing that came along,'' Murphy said.

That conservatism and self-sufficiency has kept the hospital strong and under local control, he said.

"The main reason the for-profits haven't come in here is because of these traits,'' Murphy said.

Other services initiated over the years include the Tri-State Community Health Center, a regional mobile MRI, the area's first comprehensive outpatient and inpatient rehabilitation centers, and a hospital-based Alzheimer's program.

Robinwood Medical Center opened in 1991 and has continued to grow, Murphy said. In 1995, the John Marsh Cancer Center opened in the second phase of the Robinwood project.

Washington County Hospital and Antietam Health Services have a combined work force of 2,200. The hospital has a $175 million operating budget.

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