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Submission of hospital plans delayed again

July 30, 2004|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

gregs@herald-mail.com

Washington County Health System officials do not expect to file revised plans for a new Washington County Hospital for another 10 to 14 days, nearly 21/2 months after officials originally expected to do so.

The health system must gain approval for the plans from the Maryland Health Care Commission before construction can begin.

The precise reasons for the latest delay are unclear.

Health system spokeswoman Maureen Theriault on Thursday said only that "new issues" have developed during meetings between officials from the City of Hagerstown and officials from the health system, which owns the hospital.

Theriault said she would not elaborate on what the issues were, and administrators plan "to continue working on the issues with the city without talking about them publicly at this point."

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City Finance Director Alfred Martin, one of the city officials who is negotiating with hospital officials, said the delay will allow more time for the two sides to come to agreement on the issues of contention.

Martin also did not specify the problems, but said the issues are included in the list of 17 items that the city handed hospital officials in May. He also said the negotiations generally involve agreements over water, sewer and roads.

Although the land where the hospital would be built currently lies outside city limits, health system officials have said they plan to agree to have the new hospital incorporated into city limits. Regardless of whether the hospital is inside or outside city limits, it would also need to use the city's water and sewer system.

"Our preference would be that whatever application they file reflect the agreed-upon cost to develop that site," Martin said. "If their application ... doesn't reflect that, then it's not an accurate application."

Martin said state officials indicated they would scrutinize cost assessments of the new application.

Councilman Lewis C. Metzner said Thursday he had mixed feelings over the most recent delay.

While Metzner said he believed city negotiators were acting in good faith to cut costs to taxpayers and the length of time the project would take, he also would like the city to step aside and not open itself to any criticism that it was causing further delays.

Health system officials said earlier this year that city-led disputes of their original application for the certificate of need to move the hospital had pushed the groundbreaking back months. Officials said each day of delay added $14,000 to the construction price due to inflation.

While saying he would like to have more information from the city staff on where negotiations stand, Metzner also called for the project to move "as rapidly as possible."

Metzner called on hospital officials to "file the certificate of need. ... This project should stand or sink on its own."

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