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Is hospital leveling with community?

July 31, 2005|By J. Michael Nye

In response to Ruth Anne Callaham's letter on the "need for another version of reality around here" relating to the hospital move - and the editor's response by interjecting a needed parcel of accuracy on this subject - what we need is more honesty. To publicly express an opinion on important community projects without first investigating the facts or the established record erodes credibility. There is a substantial public record on the hospital issue and it is easily accessible to Callaham. Supporting the hospital move to Robinwood without an apparent factual basis renders any opinion on the subject baseless.

Had Callaham reviewed the public record prior to submitting her well-written, but inaccurate letter - particularly the Health Care Commission's Recommended Decision that approved Certificate of Need (CON) - she would have known that the Health Care Commission questioned the hospital's selection of the Robinwood site because it was the most expensive of all sites under consideration. In response, the hospital added $48.6 million of unsupported new costs to the downtown site, claiming that condemnation delays, lost business and parking deck costs were worth that amount, as follows:

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$25 million for downtown site prep delays (?);

$15.9 million for enhanced parking deck (with no credit for parking fee income);

$7.7 million for lost business during construction (?);

To my dismay, the Health Care Commission accepted these numbers as legitimate "new" costs to be used for site cost comparison. However, there was no financial impact consideration given for the obvious delays inherent at the Robinwood site due to a lengthy zoning battle that is assured, with or without city annexation, water/sewer capacity limitations and the time line for infrastructure development, including road improvements and upgrades. Clearly, these known challenges have far greater financial unknowns and physical limitations that will cause considerable project delays than those alleged for the downtown site.

It's obvious that the hospital has chosen to overstate the costs for the downtown site and understate the true costs and schedule for preparing the Robinwood site, just to get the CON approved.

The hospital is exploiting the reputations of respected community leaders by enticing good citizens to publicly take positions on this subject without giving them all the facts. This process is not helpful to resolve this issue. It is amazing to me that a $90 million renovation budget has morphed into a project costing more than $233 million (at last count) at the most inhospitable site possible, lacking significant public support, requiring huge and rapid infrastructure investments, and that guarantees a protracted zoning fight.

The Friendship Technology Park site is available and is already zoned to allow the hospital to be built there. It doesn't have any of the above mentioned problems with the Robinwood Site. It has its own exit onto Interstate 70, which is more suited for a so called "regional" state of the art facility. It is not surrounded by an overcrowded residential community, which is a problem at Robinwood.

Hospital management is being irresponsible by attempting to move heaven and earth in order to make the Robinwood site acceptable. If they really believe that a new facility is urgently needed, forget the Robinwood site and get on with renovation (the least expensive option) or select the Technology Park location. In either case, nothing stands in the way of starting at these sites almost immediately, except, of course, the hospital's reluctance to be realistic. This entire process looks more like economic development and less about affordable, accessible health care.

J. Michael Nye is a resident of Hagerstown.

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