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Moving to Robinwood:

What hospital must do

What hospital must do

July 31, 2003

The Hagerstown Mayor and Council's decision to oppose the Washington County Hospital's plan to move outside the city probably will not succeed, for a number of reasons. But to win city approval of the move -and to do what's best for the community - there are some things we feel the hospital should do.

The council's action was revealed Tuesday when elected officials said they had retained two attorneys to ask the Maryland Health Care Commission to deny the hospital a certificate of need - one of several approvals required before a move to a proposed new site near the Robinwood Medical Center.

In a July 23 letter, the city council's attorney questioned whether a new hospital is needed and whether it would be cost-effective. It would be better, according to attorney David Funk, for the hospital to be expanded or a new facility built on the present site.

The hospital does need to be modernized, because the way medical care is delivered has changed. Instead of long wards that require nurses to do a lot of walking back and forth, modern hospital wards have hub-and-spoke designs that allow medical personnel quicker access to patients.

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To deal with issues like the need to quarantine patients in case of an outbreak of some virulent disease like SARS or even a biological terrorist attack, hospitals need state-of-the-art isolation facilities. In many areas, the existing hospital does not meet such needs, and could not be economically renovated for those purposes.

For that reason and because it would allow physicians to make rounds without leaving the medical campus, we feel the site adjacent to the Robinwood center is the best one.

However, we believe the city government has some legitimate issues that should be addressed.

The hospital's departure will result in a loss of 2,000 jobs in the city. The hospital has pledged to return the existing site to green space, but while one more park would be nice, we believe the hospital should pledge to use some of its resources and take a role in the redevelopment of the site, with an eye to bringing some new jobs to the city.

One advantage of the hospital's present site is that it's close to a large portion of the city's population, including residents of the four senior-citizen complexes.

Not everyone who goes to the hospital calls an ambulance to do so and those on limited income can't afford cab fare if they must make repeated visits. We'd like to see the hospital provide a shuttle bus for back-and-forth travel between the downtown area and the new site.

There are other issues as well, like roads, including a possible bridge across the Antietam Creek to provide a second access from Eastern Boulevard. But hospital officials' first job will be to convince the Mayor and Council that a move outside Hagerstown's municipal boundaries won't mean forgetting the city's needs and concerns.

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