Stalled hospital plans await revival

September 09, 2004|BY GREGORY T. SIMMONS

Plans to build a new Washington County Hospital have remained on the shelf for nearly four months, although the reason no action has been taken on them remains a point of dispute.

The plans that Washington County Health System officials have been pushing for nearly two years would move the hospital from East Antietam Street to a new building off Robinwood Drive.

The Maryland Health Care Commission must approve the health system's application for a certificate of need, which would allow the health system to raise patient rates to pay for the construction.


The City of Hagerstown must extend water and sewer service to the proposed site.

The hospital will have to obtain a zoning exception for the proposed site, but health system officials have not decided whether that would be done through the city or through Washington County government. The site is outside city limits, but health system officials have said they would ask to be annexed into the city.

On May 14, health system officials withdrew their first application for a certificate of need, citing difficulties with their financing plan and other problems state officials raised.

Although the revised plans are "virtually ready to go," Health System President and CEO James Hamill said last week, members of his staff, city officials, and a representatives of the planned Mount Aetna Farms development met regularly for several weeks in private talks.

Hamill and city officials familiar with the meetings have said the discussion topics included zoning, and the cost of installing water, sewer and roads systems. There is no current policy to determine who would pay for those systems.

"We are trying to find a way to satisfy the concerns of the city before we submit" plans to the Maryland Health Care Commission, Hamill said.

The health system wants to avoid another situation in which the city disputes the hospital application. The city spent about $300,000 on expert advice before the hospital withdrew its first application.

City Council members reached Wednesday said they do not know what the reason is for the delay, but it is not the private talks.

"I don't believe that at all," said Councilman Kristin B. Aleshire. He said that if the hospital doesn't receive proper zoning, then discussions about water and sewer connections will be moot.

Councilman N. Linn Hendershot said, "I think they're having a hard time justifying some of the costs."

Councilwoman Carol N. Moller said she was not aware of the status of the talks, but did not believe they were the reason for any delays.

Councilman Lewis C. Metzner said, "One can conjecture they (hospital officials) want to wait until May and see what the elections bring about."

Councilwoman Penny M. Nigh did not return a phone call seeking comment.

The city officials were divided over the likelihood they would again dispute the hospital plans.

Moller and Aleshire said they would prefer letting the state handle the case without further input from the city, while Hendershot said he wouldn't rule out spending more money on experts.

Metzner said he wouldn't rule out the possibility that the city attorney's office could submit disputes if needed.

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