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Time to end roadblocks to new hospital project

July 19, 2004

A handful of speakers addressed Friday's public meeting of the Hagerstown-Washington County Health Community Healthcare Coalition, to try to to demonstrate public support for building a new hospital near the Robinwood Medical Center.

But none had a stronger message than Dr. Allan Ditto, a local physician whose family has served the community for generations. Ditto's talk was graphic, but its strong nature will be tough to dispute.

Imagine, Ditto said, that a woman has been brought to the Washington County Hospital late at night, bleeding from both the rectum and the vagina.

Her doctor comes to the room and asks her a number of very personal questions, some involving her recent sexual behavior. Only a curtain separates the two from the patient in the next bed.

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That patient, who Ditto said was tired from an entire day's worth of tests, does not want to hear the intimate details of anyone else's life. She just wants to sleep.

But just as she's dozing off, Ditto said, nurses come to get the other patient for a test to determine where all the bleeding is coming from.

Because the Washington County Hospital rooms are so small, Ditto said, the staff apologizes and moves the bed of woman who only wanted to sleep so that they can get a gurney into the room to take the other patient for an abdominal scan.

Ditto said he'd seen this happen many times. He compared the old hospital to a grand old aircraft carrier that has gone into battle many times and which has undergone many retrofits.

But finally, it is time for a new facility, Ditto said. It is time, he said, to bring our community the best of what we can provide and stop "making do" with what we have now.

The Herald-Mail supports the hospital's move to Robinwood for a number of reasons, but Ditto's account of what patients face was moving in a way that talk about the superiority of new ward designs is not.

A new hospital would incorporate features to enhance patient privacy, but also the latest medical technology, which in turn would attract the best physicians and nurses.

Washington County cannot afford to wait while this issue is hashed out for another two years. The cost of building materials is increasing steadily, but the real danger is that interest rates will go up.

If they do, so will the cost of the project, by millions of dollars. Those higher costs will be reflected in every bill paid by patients, their insurance companies or local governments.

The City of Hagerstown has put forth 17 conditions under which it would approve this project. Only four or five of those relate to any real concerns like transportation and utilities. The rest are a wish list of things individual council members hope will be funded by a hospital administration desperate to move ahead.

But this shouldn't be about who can make the best deal, but about how all sides can work together.

If, as city officials have said, their concern is the people they represent, we urge them to come back to the table ready to hammer out a deal that will benefit all the citizens.

Citizens of Hagerstown would benefit from the tax revenues that would come as a result of annexation of property near the new hospital site - and redevelopment of property where the old facility sits.

Yes, there are details to be worked out, but that can happen, if city officials are determined to reach agreement instead of getting everything they desire.

No one in any negotiation gets everything they want. It is possible, however, to get a good deal for the citzens of Washington County, if that's truly what city officials want.

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