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Hospital plans chronicled by various groups

November 05, 2004|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

gregs@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN - If you want to learn the details about Washington County Hospital's proposed move, you might have to do some legwork, says J. Michael Nye.

"You have to do it yourself," said Nye, who said the hospital administration has not made it easy "for regular citizens" to learn the details of the project.

Nye, 61, said he's trying to keep on top of the hospital's plans because he's worried that roads in his neighborhood near the proposed site aren't equipped to handle the plans.

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Under proposals filed with state regulators, Washington County Hospital would move from East Antietam Street to a site near Robinwood Medical Center, spending $233 million on construction, financing, interest and other costs.

Due to the complexity of the project, several groups are distributing information on the move - some supportive, some critical of the project.

Washington County Health System - which owns and operates the hospital - and one citizens group have posted information on the Web. The City of Hagerstown is using the Web and television, and another group plans to wade into the issue with a local e-mail campaign.

Public support is one of the factors the state will consider when it decides whether to give the plans the official go-ahead.

But the hospital is "probably a little more complex than the average issue," said Jim Laird, president of Citizens for the Protection of Washington County.

Laird, 61, who lives near the proposed hospital site, said there are financial projections and medical needs assessments associated with the moving plans, and "most people really don't try to understand those figures. ... It is somewhat difficult to sort it all out."

Nye, who is a member of Laird's group, has been preparing a position statement that will be passed around via e-mail to about 150 people on a mailing list, Laird said.

Washington County Health System spokeswoman Maureen Theriault agreed that the hospital's application for a certificate of need is complicated.

"That is a lot, I think, for folks to be able to read and boil down," which is why the health system addresses the plans on its Web site, she said.

Jim Latimer, one of the co-founders of the Community Healthcare Coalition, said his group's Web site - which favors the moving plans - is designed to be easy to read.

"In 10 or 15 minutes, you can get a pretty good feel as to why the Robinwood site was selected," Latimer said of the Web site.

City Councilman Kristin B. Aleshire advocated for posting the 2002 site-selection committee meeting minutes, which were posted on the city's Web site last week.

Aleshire said the documents show that the proposed site wasn't the best of the ones the independent committee considered.

"We're talking $233 million" for the project, Aleshire said. "I think the average person that's going to be hit with those costs needs to read those minutes."

The city is running an audio tape of a May 7 hearing in Baltimore on its cable channel. In that hearing, Health Care Commission staff detail problems with the hospital's previous set of plans, which were withdrawn shortly after the taped meeting.

Nye said he'll continue to watch the process, but he hopes more people start brushing up on the hospital issue.

If they don't, Nye said, "People are going to say, 'How was this allowed to happen without serious debate and evaluation?'"

Getting info


There are several places to look for information on Washington County Hospital's proposed move.

To view a copy of Washington County Hospital's Sept. 10 certificate of need application in person, call:

· The Maryland Health Care Commission, 410-764-3276. The commission requests 24 hours notice from those wishing to review the application.

· Washington County Hospital's public relations office, 301-790-8950.

· The City of Hagerstown's finance department, 301-739-8577, ext. 159.

Other information is available on the Web and on television:

· Washington County Hospital's Web site is washingtoncountyhospital.com/rmc/

· The City of Hagerstown's Web site is www.hagerstownmd.org. See "Dissemination of Materials related to Washington County Hospital Health Care Commission Proceeding (Site Selection Committee Minutes)."

· The City of Hagerstown's Antietam Cable Channel 6 is airing a 32-minute audio tape of a May hearing with the Maryland Health Care Commission and Washington County Hospital officials Saturdays and Sundays at 7 p.m. More schedule information is available at www.hagerstownmd.org/PublicInfo/ch6Programs.asp and on Channel 6.

· The Hagerstown-Washington County Community Healthcare Coalition's Web site is www.hwchc.org.

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