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City, hospital officials discuss proposed move

October 28, 2003|by SCOTT BUTKI

scottb@herald-mail.com

Hagerstown City Council members and Washington County Health System officials traded barbs, statements and questions during a joint meeting Monday about the proposed relocation of Washington County Hospital to property outside the city limits.

Some of the discussion centered around whether the city should be questioning plans for the hospital to move from its Antietam Street location in Hagerstown to land next to Robinwood Medical Center on Robinwood Drive.

Councilman Kristin B. Aleshire said the city would be "negligent" if it did not push the hospital to answer questions about the affordability and accessibility of the project, but James Hamill, hospital president and chief executive officer, disagreed.

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Monday's meeting at City Hall was the first public meeting between the two groups on the issue.

After the meeting, Hagerstown Mayor William M. Breichner and Hamill said the meeting was productive and helpful.

"Just our stating our positions and them hearing it is progress," Breichner said.

The council has asked the Maryland Health Care Commission to deny the Washington County Hospital Association's request for a certificate of need, a document it needs to build the hospital.

The city is paying David Funk, a Baltimore lawyer, $200 an hour, and Hal Cohen of Baltimore, an expert in the field, $250 an hour to help them in their dealings with the Health Care Commission.

City and hospital officials agree the hospital needs a new building, but the city is not convinced Robinwood is the most accessible, affordable site, Breichner said. If the Health Care Commission decides Robinwood is the best site then the city will support it, he said.

Aleshire drew a distinction between the city opposing a new hospital and the city wanting the certificate of need approval delayed until questions are answered.

In response, Hamill questioned whether the city normally looks at projects in the detail it is examining the hospital move. Aleshire said it does.

Aleshire asked if the hospital wants the city to withdraw its objections to the issuance of a certificate of need.

"We think it is not helpful," Hamill said in response. "We think it is distracting. We think it is expensive. We think it is problematic."

Washington County Health System Board Chairman John Latimer III said he took umbrage to a suggestion that what was termed the "battle" between the city and the hospital had to happen.

"That battle was not inevitable, as you made it sound. That battle occurred when the city added some additional opposition to this process, adding additional work to the process," Latimer said.

Hamill said the hospital's goal is to provide health care to people throughout the Tri-State area while the City Council's is to represent city residents.

"That is only 25 percent of the people we serve," Hamill said.

That may be true, City Councilman Lewis Metzner said, but council members would not be doing their job for those residents if they did not raise questions, such as what will happen to the hospital property at the current site.

"We are not interested, quite candidly, in Chambersburg (Pa.) or Martinsburg (W.Va.)," Metzner said. The council does not oppose a regional approach to health care but it must fight for what it feels is best for Hagerstown residents, he said.

The meeting got off to a rocky start when Breichner read a statement about the city's position and then introduced Hagerstown Finance Director Al Martin, saying he would give a short presentation.

Hamill protested that such a presentation was not part of the meeting agreed to between him and Breichner. Breichner said he did not recall agreeing to that.

After Martin's presentation, Breichner asked, "Jim (Hamill), do you have anything?"

"Sure. We will get back to the agenda now," Hamill said.

Councilwoman Penny May Nigh, often outspoken on issues, was the only member who did not ask questions or make statements at Monday's meeting. From past private meetings, Hamill knows her opinions on the issue and she saw no reason to be argumentative Monday, she said.

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