City wants evidence that hospital move is economical

July 31, 2003|by SCOTT BUTKI

The city of Hagerstown wants Washington County Hospital to provide any documents or studies it has that show it would be more cost-effective to build a new hospital outside the city than to build at the existing site, Mayor William M. Breichner said Wednesday.

The request, along with questions about the need and cost of a new hospital, will be included in a letter the city plans to mail Friday to the Maryland Health Care Commission, Breichner said.

The city is asking the Health Care Commission to deny the Washington County Hospital Association's request for a certificate of need, which the hospital must obtain before it can move from its Antietam Street building to land adjacent to the Robinwood Medical Center on Robinwood Drive.


Pamela Barclay, the Health Care Commission's deputy director for health resources, estimated Wednesday that the process of considering and acting on the hospital's request will take about four to six months.

Barclay said the Health Care Commission, as a procedural matter, probably will ask the hospital for some of the same information the city is requesting.

Breichner said the city is not opposed to the hospital building or expanding, but wants to know why that can't be done at the existing site.

The hospital's application lists capital costs of $187.1 million for the hospital. Hospital officials say that includes projected construction costs of $164.3 million plus a debt service reserve fund for existing debt and "some working capital."

The application projects gross operating revenues of $197.3 million in the new hospital's first year of operation and $201.1 million in its second year.

Breichner said if the hospital wants community support for spending about $180 million for a new hospital, it should make public information on whether it would cost more or less to expand the hospital, or to build at the existing site.

The city has retained David Funk, a Baltimore lawyer, at $200 an hour, and an expert in the field, Hal Cohen of Baltimore, at $250 an hour. The city decided to retain Funk in mid-July and Cohen one week later, at Funk's suggestion, Finance Director Al Martin said.

Cohen was executive director of Maryland's Health Services Cost Review Commission from 1972 to 1987.

The hospital needs approval from both state commissions in order to proceed with the planned move.

In a July 23 letter to the Maryland Health Care Commission, Funk, writing on the city's behalf, questioned whether a new hospital at a new location is needed and would be cost-effective. City residents would be better served if the hospital were not moved, he said in the letter.

The Health Care Commission grants certificates of need based on several criteria, including cost effectiveness, quality of care and geographic and financial access to care, Barclay said.

As part of the process, the Health Care Commission asks for public input. Written comments will be accepted but public hearings are not held, Barclay said.

Funk and Cohen urged the city to raise questions about and objections to the hospital's planned move to let the state commission know that the city opposes the plan.

"We were strongly advised that silence is affirmation in this case," Councilman Lewis C. Metzner said Tuesday.

City officials have been poring over a copy of the hospital's application, compiling questions to send to the Health Care Commission, Breichner said.

James Hamill, hospital president and chief executive officer, 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.

Hamill on Monday expressed disappointment in the city's actions.

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