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Panel supports decision to build a new hospital

December 16, 2003|by BRIAN SHAPPELL

shappell@herald-mail.com

The Greater Hagerstown Committee Inc. has endorsed a plan by the Washington County Health System to build a new hospital at a Robinwood Drive site instead of renovating the existing hospital in Hagerstown.

The committee, in a statement issued Friday, said its position is "that building a replacement medical center at the selected site near the current Robinwood Medical Campus is in the best interest of the community."

The Greater Hagerstown Committee "recommends that all public and private sector organizations support this project," the statement said.

Hagerstown Mayor William M. Breichner, who has opposed the plan to move the Washington County Hospital from its Antietam Street location to a site outside the city, said the Greater Hagerstown Committee's support of the move contradicts efforts it has made to improve the city and county.

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The public statement, the fifth in the Greater Hagerstown Committee's 17-year history, said the move to a site near the Robinwood Medical Center "is in the best interest of the community."

The statement listed reasons for the decision to support the move, including a belief that "the current hospital location and the current hospital facility will not meet evolving health-care quality and safety needs."

Greater Hagerstown Committee Chairman William Barton said the committee only comments publicly on quality-of-life issues that are of great importance to Washington County residents.

"It is both an issue that's important to the welfare of the community and the region, and seems to be a tremendous economic development issue, as well," he said.

Barton said that in supporting the new hospital, the committee took into account the best interests of all county residents, not just city residents.

The committee is made up primarily of professional and business leaders from Washington County, although some members are from Franklin County, Pa., and the Martinsburg, W.Va., area.

A hospital spokesperson could not be reached for comment Monday night on the Greater Hagerstown Committee's statement.

The Hagerstown City Council has asked the Maryland Health Care Commission to deny the hospital's request for a certificate of need, a document it needs before a new hospital can be built.

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 has said.

Breichner has said the city will support the proposed move if the Health Care Commission decides Robinwood is the best site.

The city is awaiting answers to questions submitted to the Health Care Commission that it wanted asked of hospital officials.

Breichner said Monday the city and committee are in agreement on some issues, but said the timing of the statement of support is "difficult," because the city still is waiting for a response from the Heath Care Commission.

Breichner said the city is concerned about costs and accessibility issues associated with the hospital's move from the Antietam Street site, and the effect on residents, especially those with low incomes and those living to the north and west of the city.

Breichner said he doesn't believe Greater Hagerstown Committee members had all the facts on the proposed move before supporting it.

"They mention nothing about cost or accessibility in their response," Breichner said. "I doubt if they viewed the hospital's application to the Health Care Commission. I find it difficult to understand how they can reach that conclusion without reading it."

Hagerstown City Councilman Kristin Aleshire said he planned today to submit a four-page letter to the committee questioning its decision.

Aleshire said he believes the committee's statement saying the Washington County Commissioners and the Washington County Delegation to the Maryland General Assembly support the new facility is inaccurate and not backed up by official documentation.

Aleshire said it is premature for the Greater Hagerstown Committee to ask the city to support the project because the state still is reviewing the proposal.

"They're saying we should all fall in line and support it even as the state hasn't finished its review," Aleshire said. "What happens if the state comes back and says (it's an inappropriate proposal)?"

He said it was the responsibility of city officials to continue questioning whether the hospital move would be in the best interest of the community, even if doing so causes delays to the process.

"They (the committee) want their elected officials to be leaders, and then they send us letters asking us to be followers," Aleshire said. "I don't know - you can't govern that way."

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