Council's 'partner' plan for hospital makes sense

July 22, 2005

After spending $300,000 as an "interested party" in Washington County Hospital's move to Robinwood, now the Hagerstown City Council wants someone else to finish the job?

Our first reaction was that this council, perhaps stung by the Maryland Health Care Commission's OK of the move, was trying to back off from the issue without seeming to retreat.

But on second thought, the strategy, engineered by Councilman Lewis Metzner, may be the proper way to go, for several reasons.

The first and most obvious is that, at this point, the mayor and council would probably have trouble agreeing on what kind of doughnuts to serve at a breakfast meeting, let alone deciding on how to handle hospital utility service, etc.


The second reason is that the Washington County Commissioners and the members of the county's General Assembly delegation have, to this point, been less than vocal about hospital-related issues.

The commissioners' stance is partially defensible because they may have to vote on the zoning at some point. The delegation, however, wasn't saying much while then-Mayor William Breichner and hospital CEO James Hamill allowed the issue of where to best site a community hospital to turn into a personal disagreement.

The current sticking point is Hagerstown's agreement with the Maryland Department of the Environment that limits new hookups to the city sewer system.

Without an exception to that, or a change in city policy that says capacity cannot be moved from one site to another, there would not be enough to serve a hospital at Robinwood.

The city can alter its own policy, but the delegation, which votes on every state agency's budget, is in a perfect position to negotiate the other with MDE officials.

The hospital itself has solved the zoning question that was a point of contention with city officials.

In his recent online chat on The Herald-Mail's Web site, Mayor Richard "Dick" Trump said that the hospital had decided to seek zoning from the county, a statement confirmed by hospital spokesperson Maureen Theriault.

In the final analysis, the council's decision is not a retreat, but a call for something that should have been the first step - the formation of a partnership of elected officials to get this job accomplished in the best and most cost-effective manner possible.

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