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Candidates weigh in on hospital issue

February 27, 2005|By GREGORY T. SIMMONS

HAGERSTOWN

Whether Washington County Hospital's proposed move to a site off Robinwood Drive is successful, and what the possible move's impact on future budgets for the City of Hagerstown might be, both could depend on who the city's next mayor and City Council members are.

In the March 8 primary, 10 Democrats running for City Council are vying for five nominations on the May 17 general election ballot. Those five will battle five Republican candidates in the general election.

The mayor's primary race on March 8 will decide who among four Republicans will face the incumbent mayor in the general election.

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The proposal for a new hospital to replace Washington County Hospital's buildings on East Antietam Street has been a driving issue in City Hall since 2001, and the possible relocation continues to be a major topic for this year's candidates.

In telephone interviews this week, most candidates said they were not opposed to a new hospital, but they divided quickly among several related topics, including where the new hospital should be built and how government should be involved in the move.

Candidates said that other factors they are considering are the decision by the state agency considering the move - the Maryland Health Care Commission - and the effects of an agreement the city recently signed that limits the amount of sewer capacity the city can issue.

To support, or not to support

Three candidates have publicized their support for the hospital's proposed move on a Web site run by a group of those in favor of the move. They are Republican mayoral candidate Richard F. Trump and Republican council candidates Scott D. Hesse and Ruth Anne Callaham.

The three are running on a slate of six Republican candidates. Two of the slate's other council candidates - Torrence "Tory" M. VanReenen and the Rev. Haru Carter Jr. - also offer outright support for the move.

Others are reserved with their support.

For council candidate and current councilman N. Linn Hendershot, the decision comes down to dollars.

"If it makes economic sense," Hendershot said he would lend his support, but hospital officials have not yet proven it does. He said he fears the $234 million cost projection is going to balloon beyond $300 million, causing the hospital to lose its nonprofit status.

"If that happens, that'll hurt the doctors, that'll hurt the community. ... The only people that will benefit will be the developers east of the Antietam (Creek)," said Hendershot, a Democrat.

"If they're gonna move, that's the best place for it," said Democratic council candidate Walter "Nick" E. Carter about the Robinwood site. "It's centrally located."

Democratic council candidate Henry R. Renner Jr. holds a similar position: "I'd like to see it stay right where it is. But if they want to build a new one (at Robinwood), I'm fine with it."

Democratic council candidate Ira P. Kauffman Jr., said he also favors leaving the hospital where it is, but if the health care provided at the new hospital would be as good or better, "then it's probably a wise move."Council candidate Kelly S. Cromer, another Democrat, set aside the question of whether she supports the move and said that she accepts it will go to Robinwood regardless of what she thinks.

Republican mayoral candidate Charlie Baker did not return a phone call seeking comment for this story, but in an earlier interview said he supported a move, but not to Robinwood.

Let the hospital decide

Several candidates said they did not believe it was their place to decide whether to support or not support the hospital, but rather it should be up to the hospital to decide if they want to build a new one, and then it should be up to regulatory agencies to decide the move's merits.

Included among those were Republican mayoral candidates Robert "Bob" E. Bruchey II and Anthony "Tony" T. Campello, and Republican slate council candidate Dan G. Kennedy. Also included were incumbent councilmen Kristin B. Aleshire and Lewis C. Metzner, both Democrats.

Asked if they supported the hospital's proposed move, Democratic mayoral candidate and current mayor William M. Breichner and Councilwoman Penny M. Nigh - a Democratic council candidate - answered with a simple "no."

Democratic council candidate Donald L. Souders Jr. also said he is opposed to the Robinwood move.Council candidate Alesia D. Parson said she was reserving her position on whether to support the hospital move until she is seated as a councilwoman because she does not believe she would have full access to the facts surrounding the move until then.

"If my full disclosure (of the facts) doesn't come until after I'm elected, then that is when I will make a decision, but I think it would be reckless of me to form an opinion without all the facts," said Parson, a Democrat.

The city's role

The views on what the city should do about the hospital's move ranged from total support to doing almost nothing.

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