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Questions on city's try to block hospital move

August 26, 2003

Tonight at 7 p.m. in Suite 142 of the Robinwood Medical Center, Washington County Hospital officials will hold a meeting on the proposed relocation to the Robinwood area.

It's a chance for citizens to get answers to their questions about the move, and it's also a chance for hospital officials to address some recent questions raised by the Hagerstown City Council.

But perhaps most important is a question no one has asked yet: If the hospital had done as the council suggested and built a new multi-story facility downtown, would it have been any less costly? And would the quality of care have been any better?

The city's proposal for a downtown site involved using eminent domain to take 59 properties worth $5 million for a new site in the block surrounded by East Franklin, East Washington and North Mulberry streets and North Cannon Avenue.

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In addition, the city offered to waive $2.3 million in water and sewer hook-up fees and $375,000 in building permit fees. The council was divided, however, on whether it would contribute cash toward the property purchase.

And because even with the proposed demolitions, space downtown would be limited, the council expected any new hospital downtown to involve multi-story construction.

If multi-level construction would be just as expensive or more costly than building on one level at Robinwood, would there be any way to save cash and curtail the rate increases the council has been so concerned about? If not, is the council's objection to the move really responsible?

On a related issue, it is responsible to ask whether the cost of upgrading roads and water and sewer lines would be included as part of the move to Robinwood, or if taxpayers will be expected to shoulder that burden.

And speaking of burdens, it seems to us that the council must explain why the quality of care wouldn't be enhanced by having doctors' offices and the hospital on the same property.

Instead of driving across town, doctors would be able to walk from one site to another. Also, patients who showed up for a check-up with conditions requiring immediate hospitalization could be transported by wheelchair instead of waiting for an ambulance.

In this debate, cost is an important issue, but so is the quality of medical care.

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