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City Council tries to stop hospital move

July 29, 2003|by SCOTT BUTKI

scottb@herald-mail.com

The Hagerstown City Council has retained an attorney and a hospital expert to try to stop the Washington County Hospital from moving outside the city.

The city is asking the Maryland Health Care Commission to deny Washington County Hospital Association a Certificate of Need, one of several requirements for the hospital to move from its Antietam Street building to land adjacent to the Robinwood Medical Center on Robinwood Drive.

"We are not opposed to improvements at the hospital. But it belongs at the present site," Mayor William M. Breichner said Monday. "We are saying, 'Why can't this be done in the city?'"

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In a July 23 letter sent to the Maryland Health Care Commission on the city's behalf, the attorney representing the city questions whether a new hospital at a new location is needed and would be cost- effective.

Attorney David Funk, of Funk & Bolton of Baltimore, suggests in the letter that the hospital be expanded or a new hospital be built at the existing site, and says city residents will be better served if the hospital stays where it is.

"I am disappointed that this is, at the 11th hour, a contested review," James Hamill, hospital president and chief executive officer, said Monday. "There has been a lot done over the last eight months to get it to this process.

"I can tell you, categorically, there has been no communications from the city about any issue or concern they have with the project since their initial outburst after the announcement Nov. 14," Hamill said.

The city has agreed to pay Funk $200 an hour to help city officials block the hospital's move, City Administrator Bruce Zimmerman said. The city has retained Funk in the past for bond finance work, he said.

At Funk's suggestion, the city has agreed to retain, at a cost of $250 an hour, Hal Cohen, who was executive director of Maryland's Health Services Cost Review Commission from 1972 to 1987, Zimmerman said.

"You can't stop it without spending some money," Councilman Lewis C. Metzner said Monday.

While the council has opposed the hospital move - and offered financial incentives for the hospital to stay inside city limits - it did not know until recently that the city might be able to block the move by hiring an attorney and an expert, Councilwoman Carol Moller said.

"We thought we did not have a chance," she said.

She described hiring Funk and Cohen as a "last chance sort of thing."

Hamill announced in November 2002 that the hospital had chosen the Robinwood site over other city and county sites. The next day, city officials said they would continue to argue that the hospital should remain in the city limits.

"I am disappointed that eight months have gone by and it is essentially at a point where we are finishing up design development ... And we still don't know what their issues are," Hamill said.

Breichner, who said it has been pretty obvious the city has not been pleased with the hospital's plans, said the city's "issue" is simple: It wants the hospital to remain in the city, he said.

City officials want to prevent the move, in part because the city would lose a major employer with 2,131 workers, Breichner said.

The hospital needs approval from both the Maryland Health Care Commission and, later in the process, the commission Cohen used to run, in order to proceed with the planned move, Hamill said.

The letter signed by Funk, with a copy sent to Hamill, says in part: "The city believes that the proposed project does not meet the applicable criteria for review of applications of certificate of need. In particular, the city believes that it is more cost- effective for the hospital to provide services at an expanded or new facility constructed at the existing site within the corporate limits of the city than at a new facility constructed" at the Robinwood site.

Hamill said he did not want to respond to Funk's letter until he hears a more detailed argument from the city.

The letter also says Cohen, working with the city, will submit further written comments on the application.

By using the consultants, the city is ensuring it will be a participant in the process the hospital must go through before moving, Zimmerman said.

Hamill said the project will undergo several other reviews during the next four or five months, including zoning and rate reviews.

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