City says hospital 'not being truthful'

October 21, 2004|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

HAGERSTOWN - The City of Hagerstown is preparing to send a letter to state regulators disputing facts in a document prepared by Washington County Hospital officials.

"We just need to make sure they know that the hospital is not being truthful," City Councilman Lewis C. Metzner said Wednesday.

James Hamill, president and CEO of Washington County Health System, said he believes the new dispute might be the result of a misunderstanding, and there was no intent to misrepresent facts.


Washington County Health System, which owns and operates the hospital, is pushing plans to build a replacement hospital near Robinwood Medical Center. The existing buildings on East Antietam Street would be abandoned and torn down to make room for future development.

Those plans are in the early phases of consideration by the Maryland Health Care Commission, which can give the project the official go-ahead or deny the plans.

The document disputed by city officials on Tuesday was a response from hospital officials to questions from the Health Care Commission about the plans.

In one portion, hospital officials discussed the status of their application to gain zoning variances and a special exception, another procedural issue that must be taken care of before construction can begin. County officials said Wednesday they have not yet received a zoning request.

The document read in part: "... the city has expressed a willingness to grant the zoning classification and variances necessary for the project."

City officials said they have asked the opposite, that hospital officials apply for the zoning procedures through the county, not the city.

Hamill said that in the same section, it says later that the city and hospital have been in disagreement on the issue.

"We tried to lay out what we thought was a fair representation of what is possible" and what the courses the hospital can take to gain the zoning changes.

City Administrator Bruce Zimmerman on Wednesday said he and City Attorney John Urner had reviewed the council's request, and Urner would begin drafting the city's letter, which would then be signed by the mayor and council and sent to the health care commission's Baltimore headquarters.

The letter would also include the city's estimate on the cost of installing water and sewer connections for the proposed hospital, as well as the cost for road improvements.

Breichner: Inaccuracies

Mayor William M. Breichner said the letter is "just simply letting the commission know that there is inaccuracies in the response."

The letter is not a request to become an "interested party," a designation that allows someone special access to the state process, but can lengthen the state process. Breichner said the city has not made a decision if that will happen.

There is a meeting set for today between city and hospital officials, during which they likely will discuss the new developments.

City officials are set to meet next Tuesday to discuss hospital plans with members of a group that has aligned itself with the hospital's proposed move.

Leaders of the Hagerstown-Washington County Community Healthcare Coalition say they have more than 1,000 individuals who have joined their group and who support the hospital move proposals, although city officials have criticized the coalition because of a perceived connection with local business and hospital leaders.

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