Hospital, city need to reach an agreement

April 04, 2004|by LIZ THOMPSON

There comes a time when political rhetoric has to stop and progress has to begin.

In the case of Washington County Hospital - where delayed construction now is costing $14,000 per day if you calculate inflation - that time has come.

On Friday, several members of the hospital board - its chief executive officer, its financial officer and its public relations director - met with some editors and reporters of The Herald-Mail.

What they had to say made a great deal of sense - time is money and in this case, time is being wasted.


This whole issue could be resolved if the hospital and the City of Hagerstown would sit down and talk. Hospital officials say they are ready. Mayor William Breichner said Friday he saw no point is meeting with the hospital.

Perhaps the people the mayor represents - the people who ultimately will foot the bill - would disagree.

Here is a shortened version of what we reported on Saturday:

-- Hospital officials want to build a new hospital on property next to Robinwood Medical Center.

-- The City of Hagerstown wants it built somewhere in the downtown area. In fact, the city wants it downtown so badly, the mayor and council have offered the hospital a number of different locations.

The offers have come with the promise that the city will use its ability to take private property through the use of eminent domain. Under eminent domain, the city can take property deemed necessary "for the public good." The hospital would have to pay fair market value for each property and could end up in court arguing what dollar amount equaled fair market value.

So far, hospital officials have turned down the various city-offered locations, saying the Robinwood site is the best site.

City officials hired a couple of consultants who, so far, have argued numerous issues contained in the hospital's request before the Maryland Health Care Commission and the Maryland Health Services Cost Review Commission - agencies that must give the nod for the new hospital.

The hospital wants permission to fund the construction in a manner that has not been used in Maryland before.

The hospital wants approval from the Health Services Cost Review Commission to increase its rates by 3 percent now. That increase would go into effect and be charged to patients who are being treated in the existing hospital. Once the new hospital is built and open for use, according to the plan, the rate would increase again by another 2 percent.

That plan would help offset the $165 million price tag for the new hospital and would allow the hospital to begin paying down the debt immediately, thereby saving money in loan interest, hospital president and chief executive officer James Hamill said.

The other option, according to Hamill, is to charge a 6 percent rate increase when the new hospital opens. The problem with this plan, he said, is the rate increase is 1 percent higher and the interest debt on the loan will be more because hospital officials won't be able to begin paying that debt until the new hospital opens.

When I do the math, the second option is going to cost patients and insurance providers more.

The hospital and the city need to start meeting and they need to start talking and they need to reach some type of an agreement for the good of the community.

Both sides claim to be concerned about patients and local residents. If that's the case, both sides will be sitting at a table together before week's end.

The patients, the residents and the newspaper will be watching.

Liz Thompson is city editor of The Herald-Mail. She may be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 7682, or by e-mail at

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