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Council members' call for hospital meeting welcome

April 09, 2004

Congratulations to the four members of the Hagerstown City Council who on Wednesday endorsed the idea of a meeting with officials of the Washington County Hospital.

To make progress, we urge both sides to put aside the personal issues some councilmembers say have blocked it so far.

Both sides should also agree in advance not to go over old background at length and concentrate instead on answering some key questions, including:

- What expert opinion can the city government cite for its belief that the proposed downtown site, requiring the acquisition and demolition of more than 50 properties, would be less costly than the proposed site next to the Robinwood Medical Center?

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- What is the hospital prepared to pay toward the millions of dollars city officials have said is needed to upgrade water and sewer facilities in the Robinwood area?

- When will the hospital file for the zoning changes needed to build the new building?

- Will there be a problem with access to the new hospital for those living in the senior-complexes in and around downtown, and if so, how will it be handled?

- Would the hospital be willing to donate the old site to the downtown redevelopment corporation now being formed to revitalize downtown for possible construction of new market-rate housing?

- If interest rates rise as a result of delays caused by the city's objections, will the new hospital be scaled back, or is there a possibility the project would be dropped?

- If the hospital does not move, what are the accreditation agencies likely to require be upgraded at the present location, and at what cost?

It should not take hours of council-floor speeches to answer these questions. If fact, it would be helpful if each side could provide answers in advance to provide a basis for the discussion.

Finally, thanks to Councilman Linn Hendershot for confirming what's been known but little-talked-about: The personal ill feelings between Mayor William Breichner and hospital CEO James Hamill. It might be better for both to let member of their senior staff handle negotiations from this point on.

It would also be a good idea for all to remember that this should not be a discussion about downtown redevelopment, but about providing the best possible health care for a growing community.

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