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City Council members favor meeting with hospital brass

April 08, 2004|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

gregs@herald-mail.com

Four of five Hagerstown City Council members said Wednesday they favored a meeting with Washington County Hospital officials to discuss differences over where a new hospital should be built.

"It's better if we get together and just be able to talk out things," City Councilwoman Carol N. Moller said Wednesday when contacted at home. "Things can be resolved that way."

The possibility of talks between the two sides evolved after the latest in a series of public exchanges that began when the hospital announced plans in November 2002 to build a new facility near Robinwood Medical Center.

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The city wants the hospital to rebuild at its West Antietam Street location near downtown Hagerstown.

James Hamill, the president and chief executive officer of Washington County Health System, which operates the hospital, said Friday that information provided by the city to state hospital oversight officials has been "intentionally deceptive." Hamill also said the city's efforts were causing an increase in project costs of $14,000 a day.

Hospital officials said Friday the city had rebuffed recent attempts to meet with them.

During Tuesday's mayor and City Council work session, the council and city staff members spent nearly an hour discussing the hospital and public comments by Hamill and other hospital officials.

At the Tuesday meeting, Mayor William M. Breichner would not allow Raymond Grahe, the hospital's vice president of finance, to speak. Despite calls for a meeting from council members and Grahe's personal request for a meeting made to Breichner during a break, the mayor did not ask the council's position on the request.

Under the city charter, either the mayor or a majority of the council can call for a special meeting.

Breichner did not return phone calls to his home Wednesday seeking comment.

Council members contacted Wednesday said they believed personal issues have contributed to keeping the two sides from meeting. Still, the four council members contacted said they were willing to meet.

Councilwoman Penny M. Nigh did not return phone calls Wednesday.

Councilman Kristin B. Aleshire called for an open meeting between the city and hospital officials. He said he would like county representatives to attend the meeting.

Aleshire said he thought the meeting would be productive in two ways: Health system officials would be able to better explain why they feel their proposal to move to the Robinwood site is the most cost-effective, and city officials would get a better idea how the city would be affected by the move.

"Anything would take us further than where we're at right now," Aleshire said.

Councilman N. Linn Hendershot said he hoped a meeting could take place within the next week or so. He said an initial closed meeting might be more effective than an open one because of personal problems between the two sides.

"I don't think there's any question over whether we're going to meet," Hendershot said. But "we've got some issues between the CEO of the hospital and the mayor. ... We've gotta get beyond that."

Councilman Lewis C. Metzner also supported a meeting.

Grahe, reached at home Wednesday night, said, "We're ready to meet."

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