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Hospital official is halted by mayor

April 07, 2004|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

gregs@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN - In the end, the men shook hands, but Hagerstown city officials chose not to sit down with Washington County Hospital officials and hash out their differences over a planned new hospital.

The vice president of finance for Washington County Health System, which operates the hospital, approached the podium during Tuesday night's City Council work session after city staff members said they would talk about issues related to the hospital's plan to build a new facility near Robinwood Medical Center.

The city wants the hospital to rebuild near its East Antietam Street location in downtown Hagerstown.

Mayor William M. Breichner held up his hand and told the hospital's chief finance officer, Raymond Grahe: "It's not an open meeting. ... We're gonna discuss it with staff. You can listen."

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The exchange was the latest in a series of jabs exchanged by the city and hospital representatives.

Washington County Health Systems officials have submitted two proposals to state agencies - one for a certificate of need to relocate, the second for a fee increase - as part of its plan to move the hospital.

City officials have hired two consultants to help dispute the hospital's claims during the state's review processes. Officials said Tuesday they were satisfied with the consultants' work and have asked them to cease their efforts.

The City Council began discussing the hospital in a closed session earlier Tuesday, but decided the conversation should be held in public, Councilman Lewis C. Metzner said during Tuesday's open session. The council and staff members spent more than 50 minutes discussing the hospital issue.

City Finance Director Alfred Martin laid out a series of problems he, other officials and the consultants have had with the hospital's proposal to move.

Martin said it would be more expensive to build a hospital at the Robinwood site than in the city; that there are problems with city residents getting to the Robinwood site; and that the financing to pay for the project doesn't seem to work.

Martin said the hospital cannot blame the city for cost overruns because the initial applications were faulty. Because health care here "is similar to a monopoly," the city is fighting for the economic interests of the city and its residents and businesses, he said.

After a discussion of topics that ranged from rising health care costs in the city to zoning issues at the proposed Robinwood site to uninsured and underinsured patients, Breichner brought the discussion to an end. No vote was taken on a future meeting with hospital officials.

During a break that followed the discussion, Breichner said what happens next "really depends, I think, on ... the decision by the (Maryland) Health Care Commission," one of the agencies considering the hospital's proposal.

Asked why he did not call for a vote to meet with hospital officials although some council members had discussed it earlier, Breichner said that during that discussion, "the city, the mayor and the council made its position clear ... The hospital's application is sitting before the Health Care Commission."

Breichner then walked over to Grahe and hospital board Chairman Jack Latimer. The men were soon joined by Martin and City Administrator Bruce Zimmerman.

"We're here in a conciliatory way," Latimer told Breichner.

"I was just gonna raise my hand and say, 'Yes we want to meet,'" Grahe said to Breichner.

Breichner said he understood, and the five men talked a few moments more.

Defending the city's hiring of consultants, Breichner asked how the hospital expected the city to understand its filings without the help of consultants.

If the hospital's request to build at the Robinwood site is rejected, the hospital would have to file a new request. Grahe said that would be frustrating, but it's a possibility.

At the end of the work session, no vote to meet was recorded.

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