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Hospital relocation faces new questions

May 08, 2004|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

gregs@herald-mail.com

While some questions about proposals to move Washington County Hospital may have been settled Friday, more were raised during a meeting between hospital administrators and one of the state agencies that must approve the plans.

Washington County Health System President and CEO James Hamill said the Maryland Health Care Commission meeting was positive and he didn't believe the new questions would delay further the $165 million project to build a new hospital.

Hagerstown Mayor William M. Breichner said he thought Robert Nicolay, a Maryland Health Care commissioner, gave credence to the questions the city has raised about plans to move the hospital from East Antietam Street to a site near Robinwood Medical Center, just outside city limits.

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Pamela Barclay, deputy director of the Maryland Health Care Commission, said hospital and city officials met for about 30 to 45 minutes Friday morning in Baltimore with Nicolay.

Nicolay could make a recommendation on the hospital's request for a certificate of need to build a new hospital to the rest of the commission in the next two weeks.

Nicolay answered one of the questions city officials have raised: whether the move to the Robinwood site would limit access by city residents.

Nicolay told hospital officials the Robinwood location would not limit access, assuming necessary road improvements are made, according to a written summary of the meeting provided by Barclay.

Agreeing there is a need for a new hospital, Nicolay said replacement of the old hospital was preferable to renovation of the current hospital, according to the meeting summary.

Nicolay said, however, that hospital officials had not "adequately justified the size and scope" of the project, and had not proved sufficiently that the proposed site is the most cost-effective, according to the summary.

Nicolay noted that the hospital's plan to pay for the project depends on a request to change state policy, and therefore, hospital officials have "not shown that the project is financially viable, as currently planned," the document says.

The Maryland Health Services Cost Review Commission will not consider the hospital's financing proposal until October, Nicolay said.

Hamill said he hopes to meet with Health Care Commission staff next week to try to clear up the questions they have. He said those questions were not fully detailed Friday, but included the number of planned beds and costs per square foot.

"We feel pretty confident about those numbers," Hamill said.

If Hamill and his staff can't convince the state commission's staff next week, he said options remain. Hospital officials could modify their current application, re-file their application or argue in favor of their current application before the full health care commission in June, regardless of Nicolay's recommendation.

"We won't know which option we're going to choose ... until after we have our meeting next week," Hamill said. He said he believed the project still could get under way as early as this fall, and no later than January.

Breichner said he thought Nicolay's concerns proved the city's opposition since last July was worthwhile. Since July, the city has spent more than $292,000 on a law firm and two health-care consultants to aid in the dispute.

"Our big concern" about the cost-effectiveness of the project "was exactly what was pointed out in the commission's decision" Friday, Breichner said. "We were very satisfied."

Breichner said Nicolay urged the hospital to work with the city to resolve differences, including some items on a list of 17 requests the city handed the hospital earlier this week.

Breichner said the City Council likely will discuss further today concerns over the hospital's plans to move, and a meeting with hospital officials still was planned for Monday.

City and hospital officials have met twice behind closed doors since April 26.

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