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Mayor fights for hospital

Hagerstown's Mayor William Breichner wants the public to lobby for officials to keep Washington County Hospital in the city.

Hagerstown's Mayor William Breichner wants the public to lobby for officials to keep Washington County Hospital in the city.

November 01, 2002|by JULIE E. GREENE

julieg@herald-mail.com

Concerned that Washington County Health System officials are leaning toward the Robinwood site for a new hospital, Hagerstown's mayor pleaded with the public Thursday to encourage hospital officials to keep the hospital in the city.

The health system's site selection committee has not recommended a site yet and there isn't a timeline for the panel to make a recommendation, spokeswoman Maureen Theriault said in a phone interview.

"They are still looking at all three sites. All three are still under evaluation," Theriault said.

The health system is the parent company of Washington County Hospital, which is on the east end of downtown Hagerstown.

Mayor William Breichner said he attended an Aug. 26 meeting at Robinwood Medical Center about possible hospital sites and the discussion centered around how to make the site near the medical center work.

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"All indications is that was the way they were leaning," Breichner said at Thursday morning's press conference at City Hall.

The other two sites under consideration are Allegheny Energy's Friendship Technology Park south of Hagerstown and two blocks on the east end of downtown.

Breichner said the city had submitted two possible sites to the health system for consideration. After his press conference, he said the other site was where the Venice Inn stands along Dual Highway.

The mayor said hospital officials dismissed that site as a possibility early on, but Theriault said Health System President and Chief Executive Officer James Hamill was unaware that was a possible site.

The health system could offer to buy the Venice and nearby E.J. Fennel Professional Building properties as well as land owned by another party, Breichner said.

If that didn't work, city officials could exercise eminent domain to secure that land just as they could to secure land at the other downtown site, Breichner said.

The main downtown site is between Cannon Avenue and Mulberry Street and East Antietam Street and East Franklin Street.

During the press conference, a digital video was displayed that showed what downtown would look like with the current hospital site vacant.

It also showed what downtown would look like with a new hospital standing at the downtown's east gateway between East Washington and East Franklin streets.

"We do not believe the health care needs of this community can be better served by moving outside the city," Breichner said.

"Now is the time for our citizens to voice their opinions that the hospital must stay in the downtown," he said.

A release issued by the city asked citizens who want the hospital to stay in the city to write a letter within the next two weeks to the Board of Directors of Washington County Hospital; c/o Donald Harsh, President; 251 E. Antietam St.; Hagerstown, MD, 21740.

Breichner reiterated a list of financial savings the health system would have by keeping the hospital within city limits.

- The hospital would save $3.24 million in developing costs because the city would let the hospital transfer hookup charges and capacity use fees from the current hospital to the new one.

- The hospital would save $400,000 annually because of lower water, sewer and electricity rates in the city compared to county water and sewer and Allegheny Energy rates.

- The hospital would save $1.59 million because the city's sewer benefit charges are cheaper than the county's.

- The hospital could avoid the $20 million to $25 million cost of establishing utilities and roads at the Robinwood site.

Breichner also noted the economic loss the city could suffer if the hospital left and related businesses left with it.

City Finance Director Al Martin said the hospital was the city's largest sewer customer, its second-biggest electrical customer and its fifth-largest water customer in the fiscal year that ended June 30. In that year the hospital paid the city $892,882 for those services, he said.

City Councilman Linn Hendershot said the cost of building a new hospital outside the city could exceed $200 million.

Theriault said there were no estimates yet for the cost of a new hospital. The cost would depend upon the cost of the land and the building design, she said.

As for the Robinwood site, Theriault said the health system does not have an option on that land.

The hospital did have an option and bought 11 acres across the street from Robinwood III, Theriault said. That land borders Robinwood Drive and Medical Campus Road. The possible hospital site is further west.

It was almost a year ago that Hamill announced plans to evaluate whether to build a new hospital.

An evaluation of the health system's facility needs made it clear there were many needs and shortcomings at the hospital, Hamill said at the time.

There appeared to be no hospital officials at the city's press conference. Hospital spokeswoman Kelly Redmond said there was no formal representative from the hospital at the event.

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