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City, hospital plan to meet

April 15, 2004|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

gregs@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN - Hagerstown officials and Washington County Hospital administrators plan to meet, perhaps as early as next week, to try to sort out their differences over plans to move the hospital outside the city.

The meeting would be the first for the hospital and city officials since October.

City officials have disrupted Washington County Health System plans, announced in November 2002, to move the hospital from East Antietam Street to a site near Robinwood Medical Center.

Washington County Health System President and CEO James Hamill said Wednesday he spoke separately with Mayor William M. Breichner and Councilman N. Linn Hendershot at an event Tuesday night.

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"We agreed we need to get a meeting set up," Hamill said. He described the conversations as "very casual" and said he hoped a meeting could take place next week.

Breichner said he spoke with Hamill for about five minutes. He said they talked about "where we were in the process. He expressed some things he felt might be helpful to the city, and I expressed some things I felt might be helpful to the hospital. ... We agreed that it would be beneficial to put this whole issue behind us one way or another."

Breichner said the meeting might not be held as early as Hamill suggested because of budget priorities - the city council must approve a balanced budget by the end of May - but he said such a meeting is a priority.

Health system officials have said Breichner has ignored recent requests to meet with city officials. All five city council members and Breichner said last week they were willing to meet.

The plan to meet follows months of public verbal disputes and hundreds of thousands of dollars spent by both sides.

Last June, hospital officials filed with the Maryland Health Care Commission an application for a certificate of need to relocate the hospital.

The following month, city officials hired legal and health experts to battle the application and its accompanying financing proposals. Through February, the city spent $284,735 on the fight, records show.

Hamill said the overall application process, including the fees related to fighting the city's filings, has cost the health system about $200,000.

Some of the city's objections to the move have revolved around how the hospital plans to pay for the relocation; how much it will raise costs to patients, including city employees; and how hospital administrators will handle traffic and utility improvements needed to support the new hospital.

Hamill has said initial plans were to break ground for a new hospital last month, but as a result of the city's efforts the earliest work on the $165 million project could begin now is this fall.

A format for the meeting has not been determined, Breichner said. He said the council likely would discuss how to structure the meeting in a closed session next week.

Councilman Lewis C. Metzner said Tuesday he believes the initial talks between city and hospital officials need to be done privately.

Metzner said his idea for the talks involves "people pulling up to the table, taking off their tie, and talking about realities."

Hendershot said Tuesday he hopes the talks can begin by the end of next week. He said they probably should be closed to the public to begin with but opened later.

He said he looks forward to getting a better idea of how the health system's plans will work.

"Educate us - we're not stupid - and educate the citizens," Hendershot said.

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