Mayor says he'd meet with hospital management

April 09, 2004|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

HAGERSTOWN - Hagerstown Mayor William M. Breichner said Thursday he would comply with a request by City Council members to meet with Washington County Hospital administrators if they called for such a meeting.

All five council members said this week they would like to meet with hospital administrators. City Councilwoman Penny M. Nigh voiced her support Thursday, a day after the other council members did so.

While representatives of the city and the hospital were taking a less combative stance against each other, the mayor and council were divided over whether the hospital should stay within city limits.


The council's support for a meeting with hospital administrators comes a week after hospital officials said they could not get a meeting with city officials to discuss a proposal to move the hospital from its location on East Antietam Street to a site near Robinwood Medical Center.

City officials spent $284,735 from July 15, 2003, through February to hire a law firm and two health care consultants who worked together to dispute the hospital's plans, which are under review by state health oversight officials.

News of the council's willingness to meet was welcomed by James Hamill, the president and chief executive officer of Washington County Health System. The health system is the hospital's parent organization.

"We're delighted," Hamill said. "Hopefully, we can understand more clearly what the real issues are for them and try to address them. ... I want them to understand why this is the best health care solution."

Hamill said "numerous" attempts to meet with the council were rebuffed by Breichner.

Breichner said he remembers only two requests to meet since city and hospital representatives met in October.

The day after that meeting, hospital administrators made a failed attempt to block the city from commenting to state health officials on the proposal. City officials remained critical of that action this week.

Hamill said there was no ill will on the hospital administration's part, and called the bid to block the city from commenting a "routine filing."

Two state agencies are considering the hospital relocation. The Maryland Health Care Commission is considering the certificate of need application to build a new hospital, and the Maryland Health Services Cost Review Commission is considering proposed increases in patient rates.

The city has opposed the hospital's proposals with both agencies.

Although city Councilmen N. Linn Hendershot and Kristin B. Aleshire said Wednesday they believed personal differences between Breichner and Hamill were keeping meetings from occurring, the two men denied there was personal animosity between them.

Breichner said he was skeptical about meeting with hospital officials, but, "If the City Council wants to meet as a body, obviously, I have a responsibility to be there."

He said such a meeting could be discussed when the council meets Tuesday.

There is disagreement among the city's elected officials over where a new hospital should be located. Breichner and council members Carol N. Moller, Nigh and Hendershot said this week they believe the hospital would best be located in the city.

But while Breichner said Thursday he remains convinced the current East Antietam Street location is the best site for a new hospital, Moller, Nigh and Hendershot suggested other sites within the city. They also said it is likely the Robinwood location will ultimately be the site.

Councilmen Lewis C. Metzner and Aleshire said they don't have a preference over whether the hospital remains in the city or not.

All of the council members said they want to see a project that is financially feasible, and best for the patients.

"We want what's best for the city," Nigh said Thursday.

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