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City, hospital meet

April 27, 2004|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

gregs@herald-mail.com

After more than two hours in a closed meeting with Washington County Hospital officials to discuss differences over plans to relocate the hospital outside the city, Hagerstown Mayor William M. Breichner opened the conference room door in City Hall and cracked a joke.

He was joined by James Hamill, the president and chief executive officer of Washington County Health System, the hospital's parent organization.

"We had a very productive meeting ... and had an excellent exchange of information," Hamill said upon emerging from the meeting of the mayor, City Council and hospital officials.

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"We were exchanging issues," Breichner said. "They were very forthcoming."

Those who attended the meeting would not say specifically what was discussed, but the mayor and Hamill said the two sides would meet again.

The mayor and some City Council members have opposed the hospital's plan to move from East Antietam Street to a new facility that would be built near Robinwood Drive.

The city hired a law firm and two health care consultants to fight the hospital's application, filed with state agencies last June. The city had spent $284,735 through February fighting the planned move.

City officials said they hoped to learn more about the hospital's plans through Monday's meeting. Hamill has said hospital officials hoped that by meeting face-to-face they could convince city officials the site near Robinwood Medical Center is the best location for a new hospital.

Monday's meeting followed several months of sometimes contentious public exchanges between the city and hospital representatives.

After the meeting - attended by the mayor and council, a city attorney, Hamill, the health system's vice president of finance and four hospital board members - council members said they thought the discussion was worthwhile.

Councilman Kristin B. Aleshire, who has said he doesn't think the hospital's proposals are the most cost-effective, said his opinions were not changed in the meeting, "but, regardless, it was good to have the meeting."

Councilman N. Linn Hendershot went further, saying, "We found some common ground."

Hendershot said he brought up concerns about how senior citizens who live near East Antietam Street would be considered in the plans to move the hospital.

"They assured me those things were on their radar," he said.

Hendershot said the hospital still needs to acquire the proper zoning for the new location. That would have to be done through the Washington County government.

Councilman Lewis C. Metzner said after the meeting he believed the council and the hospital could resolve their differences within two months.

"I don't see where continuing to fight this is in the citizens' best interest anymore," Metzner said.

Breichner and Hamill said there will be more meetings. Other officials will meet as well, including City Finance Director Al Martin and Health System Vice President of Finance Raymond Grahe, who were to meet this morning.

Monday's meeting was closed by a 4-0 vote of the council. Aleshire arrived after the vote was recorded.

After the meeting, Aleshire said he did not believe the meeting needed to be closed.

"Nothing was discussed in that meeting that shouldn't have been discussed in the view of the public but, regardless, it was somewhat productive," he said.

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