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Business coalition backing hospital

July 10, 2004|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

gregs@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN - A group of Hagerstown business leaders in favor of building a new hospital near Robinwood Medical Center has met weekly for the past two months to help the hospital's construction plans win favor with the state agency that will decide whether the plans can become reality, members of the group said Friday.

"This is to put the information on the table that is most correct (about the move), as we see it," said Edward Lough, a co-chairman of the newly formed Hagerstown-Washington County Community Healthcare Coalition.

But the coalition already has at least one detractor.

Hagerstown Mayor William M. Breichner said some of the information the group is distributing may be faulty.

The coalition has distributed some numbers that members said were based on estimates by hospital officials, including an estimate that the city could earn as much as $4.4 million in annual tax revenues once the new hospital and a Mount Aetna Road housing development are built and become part of the city limits.

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"I don't believe some of their numbers," Breichner said Friday. "The facts that this group had been passing around are unsupported. It's big pie-in-the-sky stuff."

In addition to meeting regularly with top officials from Washington County Hospital's parent organization, Washington County Health System, and a Bethesda, Md., public relations consultant, the group also met Wednesday with members of the Washington County Delegation to the Maryland General Assembly.

Some legislators voiced their support of the project Wednesday, said Del. Christopher B. Shank, who attended the meeting and said he is circulating a letter in support of the Robinwood site among the county's legislators.

"There's all this opposition (to the hospital's move), and it's predominantly (Breichner) and (the Hagerstown City Council)," said Shank, R-Washington. "I think it's time that we move forward on this."

The recent actions coincide with Washington County Hospital officials' schedule to resubmit their application for a certificate of need to build a new hospital near Robinwood Medical Center. Raymond Grahe, the health system's vice president of financial services, said the revised application likely will be submitted before July 23.

Although hospital officials say the current East Antietam Street location is outdated, the Maryland Health Care Commission must approve the application before construction can begin on the new hospital.

In May, the application's reviewer hinted the certificate would not be granted because of problems with the application. Health Care Commission member Robert Nicolay said the application's biggest flaw was that the plan to pay for the construction did not meet state regulations, but he also had several other questions about the costs associated with the project.

While Nicolay's office was reviewing the application, the city spent nearly $300,000 on consulting and legal fees to dispute claims made by hospital officials in their application. Hospital officials have blamed those efforts for delays and cost increases.

James Latimer, a former vice president at Allegheny Energy, is another co-chairman of the coalition to support the hospital.

Asked if the coalition was formed to counteract the City of Hagerstown's efforts, Latimer said, "I would not like to look at it that way. I think the Maryland Health Care Commission needs to know that the citizens support a new hospital at Robinwood."

Latimer said the coalition is in its "early stages," but several e-mails have been sent out to invite business leaders, private citizens and church groups to join their effort.

Latimer also said the group will encourage people to send support letters to the health care commission and will construct a Web site. There will be a press conference next week to officially kick off the drive.

Latimer, Lough and Grahe denied the hospital was providing money to the group.

Grahe, however, said he assumed the health system was paying for the representative from Potomac Incorporated, the Bethesda-based consultant. Grahe said he did not immediately know how much the consultant was being paid.

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