Coalition to Metzner: If you can't back hospital, don't fight it

July 28, 2004|by BOB MAGINNIS

Last week, Hagerstown City Councilman Lew Metzner asked a group lobbying for support of a new hospital in the Robinwood area this question:

"What do they want us to do?"

I sent that and other background from my interview with Metzner to Ed Lough, Charles Shindle and Jim Latimer, who are chairing the Hagerstown-Washington County Community Healthcare Coalition.

On Monday, I received a response.

"In direct answer to Councilman Metzner's question, we would like him and the City Council to vote to support the new Certificate of Need application.

"If a favorable vote is not possible, then we would hope that the city would not actively oppose the project as it did with the first application," they said.


The Certificate of Need application is required for any new hospital construction and must be approved by the Maryland Health Care Commission. The city filed to be a "party of interest" when the hospital filed its first application, which was withdrawn when it seemed likely it would be rejected because of its unique proposal for financing the project.

The city government has spent $300,000 on the process and Metzner said last week he won't vote to spend any more cash.

But Metzner said he also won't vote to give the new hospital zoning under the annexation process unless it first obtains zoning from the Washington County government.

The letter from Lough, Shindle and Latimer said that while there has been some confusion over the zoning process, the hospital's only objection was to the idea of having to go through the process twice.

"However, if the city is publicly saying that they will accept the county zoning process into any annexation agreement without forcing the hospital to go through another zoning process in the city, then we believe the hospital will wholeheartedly support that effort. We certainly would urge the hospital to do so, and we would expect the city to honor its commitment," the trio said.

My question to Metzner:

Can you get the rest of the council to make such a commitment?

I hope so, because somebody's got to take a leadership role if this issue is to be settled. That doesn't mean unconditional surrender, but making a sincere effort to work out those important issues such as roads, utilities and the like.

Lough, Shindle and Latimer seem ready to do it for the hospital. Now, we just need someone from the city government to do the same.

As this is being written (Tuesday afternoon), there's no word yet on whether the hospital has submitted a new application for a Certificate of Need.

Last Thursday, The Herald-Mail reported that hospital CEO James Hamill might sign the revised application on Monday, but as of Tuesday, I couldn't get hospital officials to confirm that such had been done, or when it might happen.

One measure of how personal the dispute between the city government and some hospital officials has become was the Washington County Health System's deployment of its legal staff against City Councilman Linn Hendershot.

The health system, which owns and operates the hospital, requested that Hendershot explain - within five days - a comment he made characterizing figures produces by the Healthcare Coalition as "cooked numbers."

Hendershot explained that he felt the numbers were misleading because they implied that the city government would reap millions immediately, while in reality it would be years before the full amount would be flowing to the city's coffers.

City Attorney John Urner said Tuesday that the city had determined there was not anything for it to respond to, but added that the city doesn't speak for Hendershot. The councilmember couldn't be reached for comment Tuesday afternoon.

Now unless you're talking about tuna noodle casserole, "cooked" is not a term that should be used to describe anyone's work because it implies an intent to deceive.

Was that the coalition's intent? I seriously doubt it. Yes, its members wanted to present those numbers in the best possible light, but that's something different.

That said, if the coalition wants credibility as an independent citizens group, it should challenge Hendershot and other doubters on its own, with its members talking directly to opponents of the Robinwood site. As the best negotiators know, you can't change someone's mind from across the room.

Bob Maginnis is editorial page editor of The Herald-Mail newspapers.

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