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City has key role in hospital search

July 12, 2002|by BOB MAGINNIS

Is it in the best interest of Hagerstown and its citizens to keep the Washington County Hospital within the city limits?

Absolutely, and not just because the hospital is one of the largest customers of the city's utilities. It's a health and safety issue as well. But if the city is to use its eminent domain power to secure land, it needs to be a full partner in the site-election process.

James Hamill, president and CEO of the Washington County Health System, said it would be "virtually impossible" to consider a city site unless the council agreed to use its power to help obtain the estimated 13 acres the new facility would require.

And where is the acreage in question? Hamill won't say, although Mayor Bill Breichner said that no churches or schools would be affected. That's not much help, although it would not rule out some commercial properties within the city limits that might be turned into a site.

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The only other site mentioned publicly so far is Allegheny Power's Friendship Technology Park, located along Interstate 70 south of the city.

Locating the hospital there would mean that every ambulance transporting people from Hagerstown would either go through town or travel on the interstate. Doctors going from their offices at the Robinwood Medical Center to visit hospitalized patients would face the same trip. The hospital and associated medical services should be located where most of the people are, especially those who depend on cabs on buses to get there.

Councilwoman Penny Nigh is reluctant to accept the idea that some homes may have to be taken for this project. Looking out for constituents is her job, but we would ask her to consider how losing the hospital would affect the entire city, as opposed to a few of its residents.

That doesn't mean the city should blindly accept any proposal. This needs to be a collaboration that balances the hospital's need for a modern facility with the city's need to keep health services where most residents can easily reach them.

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