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City could take land for hospital

April 01, 2004|by PEPPER BALLARD

pepperb@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN - The city of Hagerstown says it would condemn buildings on East Antietam Street to make way for a hospital if the Washington County Health System would agree to stay at its current location.

David M. Funk, attorney for the city, said Wednesday the city would use its power of eminent domain to condemn buildings on East Antietam Street if the hospital would consider remodeling and expanding the existing hospital there.

Funk said the city made the offer after the state Health Services Cost Review Commission found the hospital's proposal to raise rates before a new hospital is built "not financially feasible" because it would be unfair for current patients to pay for the construction of a future hospital.

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Health System President and Chief Executive Officer James P. Hamill said the cost review commission had not made such a determination.

"That's wishful thinking on their part," Hamill said.

He said the health system has been asked to submit in May a rate proposal as a policy change instead of as an "exception" to the current rate policy.

Under the hospital's proposal, Hamill said, when the Robinwood project is approved by the Maryland Health Care Commission and the hospital is able to borrow $165 million to build a new hospital, the state Health Services Cost Review Commission would grant the hospital a 3 percent rate increase for patients and/or insurance providers.

When the construction of the new hospital is complete, he said, the Health Services Cost Review Commission would grant an additional 2 percent rate increase for patients and/or insurance providers.

"If we can borrow 15 percent less and get the job done" it will be better for the community, Hamill said.

He said allowing the hospital to raise its rates sooner would enable it to borrow less money.

The health system plans to build a hospital next to Robinwood Medical Center on Robinwood Drive, just outside city limits.

Hagerstown Mayor William M. Breichner said he believes the city is the best site for a new hospital.

"Moving it to the Robinwood site is, I think, ultimately a $180 million project - that's expensive and we're concerned about accessibility and the cost. What it's going to cost the patients of that hospital," Breichner said.

"You can get more value for cost at the city site," said Funk, a Baltimore lawyer who was retained by the city at $200 an hour.

But Hamill said the decision on where to locate a hospital "is bigger than closing down a street."

"Our job is to figure out where the best place to provide health care is," he said.

He said the hospital is firm in its decision to build at the Robinwood site.

He said the health system took 13 months to look at 15 sites before it selected the Robinwood location.

Initial plans called for ground to be broken at the Robinwood site in March. Hamill said the city's objections have delayed the project and cost the health system about $13,000 to $14,000 a day in increased construction costs for each day groundbreaking is delayed.

He said it has cost the hospital about $100,000 on legal fees to respond to the city's objections to the proposal.

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