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Community consensus needed on hospital issue

November 18, 2004

The Washington County Health System's quest to build a new hospital adjacent to Robinwood Medical Center faced two new potential hurdles this week, as Hagerstown officials and Carefirst BlueCross BlueShield indicated they want a chance to comment on the proposed move.

There has to be a way to expedite this review before the project's costs are affected by an expected increase in interest rates.

How soon could that happen? The Federal Reserve raised rates 0.25 percent in September, but a Sept. 27 Christian Science Monitor story concluded that experts were divided about whether rates would rise or fall in 2005.

But the story also said that if interest rates rise without a corresponding improvement in the economy, many construction projects might not get built, as people and companies rethink their long-term debt.

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This is not an argument for doing away with any review, but for all parties to look at the consequences of failing to agree on what's best for the community.

Few would argue, putting other considerations aside, that it makes sense to have the hospital within easy reach of most doctors' offices. And if every room were a private room on a ward built on a "hub-and-spoke" design, does anyone doubt that there would be benefits in terms of quicker response, privacy and germ prevention?

Of course not, but the discussion has been bogged down by the introduction of some side issues - the city's proposal that the hospital buy and demolish the Holiday Motel, for example - that are unrelated to the key question here:

What is best for the health and welfare of present and future residents of Washington County and the region?

Once that question is answered to the satisfaction of the community's residents, it will be a lot easier to work out the peripheral details, such as zoning and who will pay how much toward an upgrade of roads and utilities there.

When the hospital's trauma center closed in May 2002, there was a community consensus that it was a necessary facility. It was clear that citizens wanted elected officials to do whatever was necessary to get it open again.

It will be more difficult to build that consensus now because, as many readers have asked us, if the present hospital has been rated one of the top 100 hospitals for its size four times in the past 10 years, how inadequate can it be?

Answering that question is essential if the community is going to get behind this project. We suggest that it be a top priority of the Hagerstown-Washington County Community Healthcare Coalition and its three chairs, Ed Lough, Charles Shindle and James Latimer.

Convince the community that there's a need for this project and it will move forward, no matter what the Hagerstown City Council says or does.

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