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Differing sides sound off on hospital issue

October 27, 2004|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

gregs@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN - Depending on who was speaking, a discussion on Tuesday between Hagerstown city officials and members of a group that supports the move of Washington County Hospital fell somewhere between positive and nauseating.

The 11/2-hour meeting revolved around Washington County Hospital and the plans being pushed by hospital officials to build a new hospital near Robinwood Medical Center and eventually tear down the current hospital at East Antietam Street.

The Hagerstown-Washington County Community Healthcare Coalition is the group that has aligned itself with the plans. It was represented Tuesday by its co-founders, Edward Lough, James Latimer and Charles Shindle. No hospital officials were present at the meeting.

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It was not clear Tuesday after the meeting whether better health care facilities were on their way any faster than before the meeting, but few, if any, things were left unsaid about the hospital.

City Councilwoman Penny M. Nigh lashed into Lough, Latimer and Shindle.

"You all have nauseated me to no end," Nigh said with a raised voice.

Nigh called the hospital plans a "Taj Mahal" that will be unaffordable to patients, and she questioned the coalition members on their involvement with other boards, saying she believed those groups were trying to influence the council.

Shindle, responding to Nigh, said that while he's a member of the Economic Development Commission board, hospital issues were not discussed there.

The bulk of the meeting was spent discussing procedural items related to the move, how the city is being portrayed in its involvement with the move, and on which items the city officials and coalition representatives saw eye-to-eye.

City officials questioned the coalition members about why they supported the move, and several times members said they would agree to disagree.

The two groups agreed they favored an updated hospital, but while the coalition supports the Robinwood site, the city's official stance is more nuanced. The city has said it will support the Robinwood site if the Maryland Health Care Coalition - the state body considering the moving plans - approves of those plans.

Aside from Mayor William M. Breichner, none voiced total opposition to the move at the meeting.

After the meeting, Lough said that was a good sign.

"I think this may open the door ... to get the hospital off the ground," Lough said. "They understand our concerns. We understand their concerns."

After the meeting, Breichner said he believed the meeting helped show that the city wasn't to be faulted for delays in the hospital's plans - an accusation Breichner said the city continues to face.

Breichner said he wasn't completely satisfied after the meeting, but it was helpful.

"They certainly didn't justify their support of the location," Breichner said. "I think this meeting was needed. ... What was said here had to be said.

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