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Talking with the hospital

October 27, 2003

Tonight officials of the City of Hagerstown and the Washington County Hospital are scheduled to meet in public session to discuss the city's objections to the hospital's planned move to the Robinwood area. We urge the participants not to let emotion get in the way of a compromise that could benefit every Washington County citizen.

The Herald-Mail has endorsed the move because after listening to both sides, we have concluded that a new, modern hospital located near the Robinwood Medical Center makes good sense. Nor do we believe that keeping the hospital downtown will help with the revitalization of the city's core. If that were true, the streets immediately around the hospital would be bustling with economic activity.

But the city government has some legitimate questions about the cost of the construction and how the necessary infrastructure improvements will be paid for. City officials have also said that because of rules on sewer allocation contained in a joint city-county service agreement, there isn't enough capacity for a new hospital in the Robinwood area, unless it's annexed into the city.

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In short, there are multiple issues to be dealt with, and we believe that while Mayor William Breichner and James Hamill, the hospital's CEO, will set the tone for these talks, they should seriously consider letting top staffers on each side work on possible solutions.

This is an approach that succeeded when the city and county governments were considering an agreement to interconnect their sewer systems on the west side of Hagerstown. Unfortunately that agreement became a hostage of sorts to the two governments' annexation dispute, but that doesn't mean that that the basic approach was wrong.

We urge the city government to endorse this method because any time and money spent on a fight with the hospital are resources that should be directed to lobbying the governor and the Maryland General Assembly for operating money for the University System of Maryland's new Hagerstown Education Center.

William Donald Schaefer, the state's comptroller, said in Hagerstown last week he isn't optimistic that the $1 million needed will be forthcoming.

The USM center here has the potential to improve life by producing a more educated population that will attract companies with higher-paying jobs. That's the prize city officials need to keep their eyes on, and avoid being distracted by differences over the hospital's move.

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