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City seeking support to keep hospital

December 27, 2002|by LAURA ERNDE

laurae@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN - Hagerstown officials have asked state lawmakers to help them prevent the Washington County Health System from building a new hospital outside the city.

When city officials met with members of the Washington County delegation to the Maryland General Assembly last week, they asked lawmakers to consider legislation concerning the hospital.

Hagerstown Mayor William M. Breichner dug up a state law from 1949 that required the hospital board of directors to include the city's mayor and the president of the Washington County Commissioners.

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Since then, the hospital has gotten away from that for some reason, either through other legislation or through its own charter amendments.

"We think the local government deserves representation on that board," Breichner said.

City Attorney John Urner said the Maryland General Assembly, which created the hospital through legislation, should have some authority.

During the discussion, Councilman N. Linn Hendershot got emotional about the likelihood that a new hospital will be built off Robinwood Drive instead of in downtown Hagerstown.

There are many senior citizens who live within 10 blocks of the hospital who won't have easy access to health care, he said.

"Now we're going to abandon those people. We're talking about health care for the poor and health care for the rich," he said.

Referring to hospital President and CEO James Hamill, Hendershot said, "I think Mr. Hamill has got his head up his a--."

Hamill, through a hospital spokeswoman, had no comment on Hendershot's remark.

Hamill also declined to comment on the hospital board membership, saying he has not discussed the proposal with city officials.

Lawmakers had little comment during the meeting.

Afterward, Delegation Chairman Del. Robert A. McKee said he would research current law and what kind of legislation is possible.

"I'm certainly not opposed, with the significance of the hospital to the community, to see the city on that board," McKee said.

But Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington, said he doesn't think lawmakers should interfere with the hospital.

"Wording from a piece of legislation from 1949 doesn't mean anything in today's world," the city's resident delegate said.

Donoghue said he has faith in the decision of the hospital board.

"The people making that decision are very bright and well-educated people. They're not going to do anything that's going to hurt the community," he said.

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