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Bringing the USM campus to life

August 20, 2003|by BOB MAGINNIS

Elsewhere on this page is a letter from William Kirwan, chancellor of the University System of Maryland. In his letter, Kirwan reinforces what The Herald-Mail has been saying in recent editorials - that even though renovation of the old Baldwin House in downtown Hagerstown is under way, it would be dangerous to conclude that this project is in the bag.

That's because the construction money is one thing, while operating expenses are another. As Maryland struggles to close a large gap between revenues and expenses, it would be too easy for lawmakers to say something like this:

"Because of the financial constraints facing this state, we need to delay any new programs until the state is in a better position to fund them. We anticipate that happening within three years."

And if the project gets delayed once, what's to stop it from happening again?

I'm sure the state is having financial difficulties, but I'm also certain that there are items in the budget that are less important than giving local people the opportunity to get a four-year degree without traveling extensively to do it.


And the more college-educated people who live in Washington County, the more attractive this area will be to companies that can provide those high-tech jobs we keep hearing about.

But if you read Kirwan's letter closely, he's asking for help with more than funding. He's also asking residents and businesses to support the center by attending classes there. The best way to protect this campus from budget cuts will be to use it. I hope local workers will do that and that their employers will support them.

How? By reimbursing them for tuition costs after they've successfully completed a course.

But first we need to secure the operating funds. Within the next few weeks, I'll share a list of the relevant committee chairs to whom you can write. Later there will be hearings in Annapolis, for which local folks should turn out in force. Nothing about this project should be taken for granted, or left to chance.

One of the nice things about the new schedule of televised Hagerstown City Council meetings is that if you've read a Herald-Mail story about what happened and you'd like to see it for yourself, you can. The Tuesday session is rebroadcast Thursday at 7 p.m. and Saturday at 9 a.m. on Antietam Cable Channel 6.

This past Saturday I tuned in to hear the presentation from Hal Cohen, the city's consultant on the Washington County Hospital's "certificate of need" for a new facility at Robinwood.

Cohen, director of Maryland's Health Services Cost Review Commission from 1972 to 1987, surprised me with his presentation. If City Council members hired him with the idea of blocking the move, they may be surprised as well.

Not only did Cohen say that a "significant project is appropriate," although the location is open to question, but he also said the city or county government could help the hospital with financing by issuing general obligation bonds.

On the minus side, Cohen said that the key issues are access and cost-effectiveness. In 2002, the largest percentage of hospital discharges were from the 21740 zip code, which the hospital would be leaving if it moved to Robinwood.

Other problems noted by Cohen include a shift from a profit of $1.8 million in 2001 to a projected deficit of $6 million in 2003, a fact he attributed to a 10 percent increase in the average length of stay. That jump was not accounted for by a 10 percent increase in the number of more serious cases, he said.

Cohen also questioned the proposed rate increases, which will total 13 percent by 2006, and the room charge, which he said would be a "whopping big increase" of $194 a day.

The city's consultant also noted the cost per square foot cited in the application, saying it was above industry standards. And Cohen said that while the application proposed to improve efficiency, it didn't say how.

Barry Nickelsberg, executive director of development, community relations and marketing for the Washington County Health System, replied to some of the city's questions by saying they were ridiculous and should have been raised earlier. Maybe so, but I suspect the hospital will need to formulate a more detailed reply.

Some years ago I speculated that abortions would be rendered obsolete by the development of medical technology to enable the transplant of the fetus from one womb to another. Now it seems, we are closer to that day.

In the Aug. 18 issue of New Republic magazine, Sacha Zimmerman writes about the development of ectogenesis, in which the fetus would develop in an artificial womb outside the mother's body.

There are 1,000 or more implications for our society, including new hope for all who want to adopt, but who can't find a child and the resolution of a political issue on which there is currently no compromise. Read the whole thing on-line at

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