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Lough: Hospital move will benefit community

October 16, 2004|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

gregs@herald-mail.com

There is no computer in Ed Lough's office. His walls hang with plaques from local service organizations and his shelves are lined with softball trophies and New York Yankees memorabilia.

Lough's office in Northwestern Mutual's suite on West Washington Street does not impart the newest role he's taken on.

He is one of the co-founders of the Hagerstown-Washington County Community Healthcare Coalition, which now claims more than 1,000 members. The group was formed this summer to help push plans for Washington County Hospital's proposed move to a site near Robinwood Medical Center.

The coalition has a single purpose, Lough said in an interview on Friday: "To let the people in Baltimore know we're in favor of (the hospital)."

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The Maryland Health Care Commission is reviewing the hospital plans. The state agency, headquartered in Baltimore, will decide whether to allow the plans to move forward. A final decision is not expected before January.

Lough said he believes the hospital move will be a plus for the city and the region, and he thinks the work he and his co-founders are doing will pay off. But his role in the organization has drawn fire from Hagerstown City Council members because he is affiliated with other local organizations.

Lough is the chairman of the Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce and a member of the Greater Hagerstown Committee. He has been involved in clubs and boards in the county since he moved here more than 20 years ago.

Lough signed the letter sent to the health care commission two weeks ago, throwing the chamber's support behind the moving plans.

While Lough said he did not withdraw himself from the chamber board's Oct. 4 vote on whether to support the hospital's plans, he said he relinquished his usual role of running the meetings to the chairman-elect. Either way, he said, it didn't matter because the board voted unanimously to support the hospital's move.

Lough said his affiliations and his work to get the hospital plans approved have nothing to do with each other.

"They're completely separate in my mind," Lough said. "You meet people. ... When you're a member in certain boards, you're gonna see a lot of the same faces."

Since its first public event in July, the coalition has grown through a combination of members getting friends and family to join and letters he and fellow co-founders - Jim Latimer and Charles Shindle - have written.

Including all of the people represented in the organizations on the coalition's list - unions, business organizations and religious groups - "the ones (in the county) that don't support it are in the minority," Lough said.

Lough admits, however, that there is no way to know for sure how many people truly support the cause. As far as he knows, organizations that placed their names on the list did not poll their individual members, including the unions and the chamber.

The next phase of the effort involves beginning a letter-writing campaign to the health care commission. Whether or not that campaign will be successful remains to be seen.

Pamela Barclay, who oversees the state's review of the hospital's lengthy certificate-of-need application, said community support will be considered as part of the entire application, and the letters will be included in that review.

By state law, the commission also must review the plan's cost-effectiveness, quality and access to care, Barclay said.

"All of those things are important in reviewing a project such as this," Barclay said.

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