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Review might delay hospital

September 14, 2004|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

gregs@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN - The state's review schedule for new health care facilities might make it difficult to meet a January deadline to begin construction on a planned replacement for Washington County Hospital, a state official familiar with the process said Monday.

The Maryland Health Care Commission began a two-week preliminary review of the hospital's plans on Monday, said Pamela Barclay, the commission's deputy director of health resources.

Citing problems with their plan to pay for the new hospital, Washington County Health System officials in May withdrew their original application nearly 11 months after submitting it and moving it through official channels.

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That paperwork - the application for a certificate of need to move - is reviewed by the Maryland Health Care Commission.

It is a detailed plan of the services the new hospital would provide, the projected costs to build the new hospital and information on finances and the types of patients the hospital treats.

The revised application was turned in Friday after business hours, which set Sept. 24 as the first deadline for the review process, Barclay said. That is when the commission must let hospital officials know if they are missing any information before the formal review process can begin.

The hospital is allowed to respond, and shortly after the application is determined to be complete, the commission opens the case for a 30-day public comment period.

During that period, members of the public can apply to become an "interested party," a designation that allows more access to the case. The City of Hagerstown successfully applied as an interested party to the original application.

Barclay said the interested party designation is likely to add time to the review process. Once the public comment period closes, a reviewer has 120 days to complete a review of the case, although that can be extended if motions are filed or evidence is contested, as it was by the city in the original application.

The City of Hagerstown has not indicated whether it would contest the case, although officials have said they are interested in seeing the application once it becomes public.

If no interested parties are added to the case, Barclay said she believed it would be possible for the commission to have a decision by mid-January.

"There's not a lot of time ... That's definitely a best-case scenario," Barclay said.

Washington County Health System President and CEO James Hamill said Friday he believed construction, expected to take 30 months, could begin in January. He has said he hopes construction at the Robinwood Drive site can begin as soon as possible because of rising construction prices.

The cost of construction already has increased from $165 million to $175 million, mainly because of increases in the cost of fuel, concrete and copper, Hamill said.

To pay for construction, the health system will have to gain approval to increase patient care rates between 5 percent and 6 percent.

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