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A modest proposal to end hospital strife

November 27, 2005|By BOB MAGINNIS

There is one man who could add millions to the cost of a new Washington County Hospital at Robinwood.

No, the man I have in mind is not hospital CEO James Hamill, although he certainly has a big role in the project's finances.

No, I'm referring to J. Michael Nye, leader of the opposition to the Robinwood site. Nye, who lives in nearby Black Rock Estates, is convinced that the new facility will be much more expensive than hospital officials are saying and that the necessary road improvements will not be done in time to handle traffic coming to the new hospital.

If the Washington County Board of Zoning Appeals gives the hospital the exception it is seeking and Nye appeals that in court, the matter could drag on for years.

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During that time, interest rates could rise, building materials could go up and money would have to be put into the old hospital to meet new standards.

Even if you believe Nye is a crank, as some hospital officials probably do, he is not your usual sort of crank, blowing off based on thirdhand gossip, conspiracy theories and the like.

Instead, he has studied the hospital's tax returns and its Certificate of Need filings to the Maryland Health Care Commission. He has read the opinion issued in 1991 by the Washington County Board of Zoning Appeals and The Herald-Mail news coverage from that time.

Most recently, he went to Washington County government offices and obtained copies of maps and timetables for road improvements near the proposed hospital site.

How do I know this? Because he has given me copies of all of his research materials and has said he will be glad to explain his conclusions at length to anyone who will listen.

Now it's time for full disclosure: For almost 20 years, I have been a member of the Hagerstown Exchange Club, a service club of which Nye is also a member. We have worked together on fund-raising projects for a variety of causes, including the Parent-Child Center, a United Way agency that works to prevent child abuse.

In that time, he has never bought me so much as a cup of coffee, but he has left me steaming on occasion, for what I consider ill-advised actions and statements.

Sometimes he has allowed a difference of opinion with someone to escalate into something worse, when a little personal diplomacy would have worked a lot better.

I have put up with that because he does the lion's share of the work on many fundraisers and he has never done anything during those events I'm aware of that benefitted him personally or financially.

He often won't take advice, even when it's in his best interest. When he was executive director of Community Rescue Service, he got on local fire-rescue officials' bad side by challenging the present funding system, in which some grants are divided equally among all the companies, as opposed to, for example, the number of calls run.

He irked the politicians, too, because he called them on their long-held habit of taking volunteer efforts for granted and being stingy with CRS, which does more ambulance runs than all other companies combined, in a service area where most who are transported are poor and/or lack insurance.

It got so bad that when he entered a meeting, fire-rescue people and elected officials tensed up, their body language saying what they didn't verbalize - "Not this guy again!"

My advice was to allow some of the young medics to attend those meetings and do the presentations. Sometimes the same old message sounds new when someone new is delivering it, particularly when that someone is on the front lines.

He didn't take that advice and was eventually run out of the CRS job. Local governments have since been more generous to CRS. In part, I believe that's because it's easier to give if it doesn't look like a victory for Nye.

Back to the hospital project. Nye is unlikely to be swayed by the business community or anything but a convincing argument. If he's not from the "show me" state of Missouri, he might as well be.

In the interest of moving this project forward, in one way or another, I have gotten him to agree to a proposal.

He and I will sit down with hospital officials and he will lay out his arguments. If they can convince him that he's wrong and that the project is affordable and good for the community, Nye said he will drop his opposition.

If he's not convinced and I am, I will write that, with the disclaimer that I am not an accountant or knowledgeable about high finance.

However, that's been my strength as a reporter - I know what I don't know and am not cocky enough to believe I understand everyone else's business.

I haven't previewed this with hospital officials, in part because I don't want anyone to try to talk me out of it.

If they choose not to sit down for this pow-wow, that's OK, but I am going to. And I will write a column (or maybe two) to detail Nye's arguments. Like any good reporter, I would prefer to get both sides. Please call me. I'll be in my office Monday at 8 a.m.

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