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City, hospital steadfast as paperwork flies

March 24, 2005|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

gregs@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN - Washington County Hospital and the City of Hagerstown recently traded more barbs in what might be the last volley of paperwork between the two in the hospital's attempt to gain state approval for its moving plans.

The paperwork is part of the state regulatory process to consider the $234 million proposal to move Washington County Hospital from its East Antietam Street buildings to a new complex off Robinwood Drive.

A final decision by the Maryland Health Care Commission could happen as soon as May, commission officials have said.

The commission is considering the hospital's application for a certificate of need, which is a detailed plan for the proposed hospital. If the commission does not approve the application, the new hospital cannot be built.

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On March 7, both the city and CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield submitted comments on the hospital's application, which had been revised in January. On March 18, Washington County Hospital responded to the filings.

The city focused on the hospital's plan revisions.

"The pattern is clear," stated the March 7 letter signed by David Funk, an outside attorney representing the city. "The Hospital applies; the City comments and the Hospital responds by changing its application to make the City's comments irrelevant.

"This process is unproductive and symptomatic of a fatally flawed project," and the hospital's strategy is "to outlast the City - to bob and weave until the City is exhausted and a certificate of need for the Robinwood project is issued by default."

The city's attorney also attacked what he said were unresolved issues for the hospital.

Funk wrote that the hospital still lacks a special zoning exception and hospital officials have not agreed yet to pay $4.9 million in projected costs to install water and sewer service to the new site or a $3.4 million one-time payment to the city for water and sewer allocation.

"Until these fundamental development issues are resolved ... it is premature and speculative for the Commission to grant a certificate of need," Funk wrote.

CareFirst, the state's largest insurer, supported the hospital's plans to build single-patient rooms, saying they can help reduce costs and improve health-care services.

CareFirst's representative also encouraged the commission to consider opinions from people in the area "because the local population will have to bear a substantial portion of the costs" for any plans approved by the commission.

In response to the city and CareFirst's comments, Washington County Hospital attorney Jack Tranter wrote that neither one followed commission procedures, and therefore the comments should be stricken and not considered.

Taking aim specifically at the city's comments, one section was subtitled, "The City's comments miss the substantive mark and are insulting."

Tranter wrote that the "bob and weave" argument was "both inaccurate and unfair" because it "completely ignores the Commission's important and necessary role."

Tranter also wrote that proper zoning designations - according to state regulations - are not necessary for the commission to grant approval.

The official in charge of reviewing the plans must first decide whether to comply with the city's request for a status conference before he issues his preliminary opinion, said Colleen Lates, an assistant to the Health Care Commission interim director.

That opinion would be considered by the full commission, which is expected to happen in May, Lates said.

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