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City, hospital talks progress

May 04, 2004|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

andrews@herald-mail.com

A 90-minute private discussion Monday about Washington County Hospital's planned move to Robinwood Drive was fruitful, but not monumental, city and hospital officials agreed afterward.

It was the second meeting between the two sides in a week after months of rancor and pointed criticism over the project.

"It's progress - definitely," Hagerstown Mayor William M. Breichner said.

Breichner said the city and the hospital are "still in some generalities and getting ready to go into specifics."

James P. Hamill, the president and chief executive officer of Washington County Health System, the hospital's parent company, said that "the project, its scope (and) its implications" were discussed.

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"We also together have a better appreciation of how each (side) sees it," he said.

Washington County Health System announced in November 2001 that it wanted to move the hospital. City officials lobbied for the hospital to stay in Hagerstown.

A year later, the Health System picked Robinwood Drive, outside the city, to build a hospital now estimated to cost $165 million.

The city council protested and hired a law firm and health-care consultants to help fight and question the move. As of last month, the city had spent at least $290,000 on that effort.

Breichner said after Monday's meeting that issues remain, including patients' ability to get to the new hospital, the care they'll get and land annexation.

Councilman N. Linn Hendershot said the biggest concern still is the "incredible" cost of water and sewer service, road improvements and other infrastructure the new hospital would need.

Councilman Lewis C. Metzner said in an interview Thursday night that those are city concerns for at least two reasons - the possibility that the hospital land would be annexed into the city and the effect on other intersections, such as Edgewood Drive at Dual Highway.

The two sides are going over issues slowly but steadily, Hendershot said.

"It's kind of like eating an elephant," Hendershot said. "You have to eat by taking a bite at a time."

"I'd like to think we have done what needed to be done to get the negotiations started," Hamill said.

Objecting to the Robinwood Drive site may be futile, but the council is continuing its inquiry to make sure the move goes as well as possible, Metzner said.

The meeting was held at the new American Red Cross office off Eastern Boulevard. It started with an open session, but the council voted 4-1 to close the meeting to the public. Councilman Kristin B. Aleshire voted against closing the meeting.

Under Maryland's Open Meetings Act, government bodies may - but are not required to - go into executive session if a discussion fits into one of eight categories of exemptions.

Monday, the City Council cited the "commercial/business matters" exemption, which allows private discussion of, among other things, "matters concerning a proposal for the location, expansion or retention of a business or industrial organization within the State."

The city and Health System officials agreed to meet again at the American Red Cross office next Monday.

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