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Hospital move clears another hurdle

October 29, 2004|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

gregs@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN - Plans to move Washington County Hospital have passed another step in the state review process that will determine whether the hospital will be allowed to move.

The Maryland Health Care Commission, the state agency with the power to grant the go-ahead to the project or deny it, will open the plans for a 30-day public review on Nov. 12, said Pamela Barclay, who is in charge of the review for the commission.

Barclay said Thursday the notice was sent to hospital officials Tuesday in a letter that also requested more information as part of the preliminary review of the plans.

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The public review process will further define when the commission will make its decision. If no one contests the case, a decision could come as early as January. A contested case would take longer, Barclay said.

If the commission approves the plans, hospital officials have said construction could begin soon after.

At a cost of $300,000, the City of Hagerstown contested the hospital's last set of plans submitted to the state by appealing to join the case as an interested party, a special designation given to people, companies or other organizations that can prove they have a legal stake in the case.

Hospital officials eventually withdrew those plans in May, citing their financial plan among their problems.

Washington County Health System, which owns and operates Washington County Hospital, submitted revised plans in September for a $175 million construction plan, with another $58 million in interest, financing and related costs.

The total project cost is $233 million, according to the plans in the hospital's certificate of need application, which is the document being reviewed by the health-care commission.

Hospital officials have said the plans provide for more patient privacy, an ability to expand the hospital if needed, and new services such as a newborn care unit, which should cut down on emergency trips to hospitals in Baltimore and Washington, D.C.

City's objection


The plans have met criticism, however, from the City of Hagerstown.

On the first version of the plans, city officials said the plans didn't prove the need to move to the new site and the increased cost to patients wasn't justified.

City officials have not yet officially decided if they will again join the case as an interested party, but some officials on Thursday said they were leaning in that direction. The majority, however, said they do not wish to spend new money on outside legal and health-care advice, which was the source of last year's expense.

Council members N. Linn Hendershot and Penny M. Nigh and Mayor William M. Breichner said they want the city to join as an interested party. Councilman Lewis C. Metzner said he most likely will also support the city's joining as an interested party.

Breichner said he believes the city should again hire outside legal and health-care advice. Hendershot and Metzner said the City Attorney's Office, which is much less expensive, should be used. Nigh said she will wait to decide on further expenses.

Council members Carol N. Moller and Kristin B. Aleshire said they are leaning against the city's joining as an interested party.

"I don't know what else we would say ... I don't think the city needs to do any more than wait for" the health-care commission's decision, Moller said.

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