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Ehrlich tours Western Maryland Hospital Center

February 24, 2003|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

gregs@herald-mail.com

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich paid a visit to the Western Maryland Hospital Center Sunday, where he reiterated his support for health-care services statewide and allowed local officials important face time with him.

Ehrlich said maintaining funding for places like the hospital center on Pennsylvania Avenue is "a major priority to this administration."

Ehrlich said he especially will support places like the hospital center, which helps return patients with serious injuries or illnesses back to a life outside a hospital.

Ehrlich spent about 30 minutes touring the hospital, and made short remarks afterward to a group of about 20 officials who came to meet him.

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Local officials said they felt it was a good sign that the governor spent time with them.

During the tour, Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, quipped to a colleague: "(Ehrlich's) not going to be a stranger to Washington County like his predecessor was."

The hospital faced serious budget cuts and possible closure a decade ago under William Donald Schaefer's administration.

"This is a wonderful facility," said state Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington. He said his mother received good care there before she died, and by Ehrlich getting to know the facility, he would realize its value.

"If you know this place well, you're not going to look at this place for (budget) cuts seriously. We don't want that to happen again," Munson said.

Hospital Director and CEO Cindy Pellegrino said this year there have been no glitches in the hospital's funding process. The hospital, which receives funding from the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, spent about $7 million in state funds in the fiscal year that ended in June 2002. Those were the most recent figures available.

Ehrlich visited several patients, including David Clift, 51, who was a patient at the hospital for 34 years after losing the use of his legs during a diving accident. He is moving out on his own Friday.

"This place - I wouldn't have made it without it being here," Clift said.

Ehrlich was also visiting the hospital because it received a state award in November from the governor's office for performance among state agencies. The hospital has 327 employees and maintains about 100 patients, Pellegrino said.

Ehrlich, along with his wife, Kendel, spent the weekend in this part of the state, splitting time between vacation spots and health-care centers. They were heading to Washington, D.C., Sunday night for a dinner at the White House.

Kendel Ehrlich said she was impressed by the hospital.

"This is an awesome facility ... dedicated to the chronically ill. It takes a big heart," she said.

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