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In the end, medical care, not choppers, should be the focus

November 27, 2005|By Tim Rowland

The two best arguments against a new hospital at Robinwood were placed squarely on the table this week, and they are these: First, Robinwood is not the best site, and residents were promised the hospital would never relocate there. Second, construction costs will necessitate rate increases in excess of what we are being told.

Both contentions are probably true. But even when taken together, they are not compelling enough to delay the project more than it has already been delayed.

True enough, Robinwood is not the best site. But a strong argument can be made that it is the second-best site. Ideally, the hospital would have been built near the former Allegheny Energy building at Interstate 70 and Downsville Pike. A hospital there would have cost less, been easier to get to and would not have interfered with private homes.

What the Robinwood site does offer is this: Proximity to the Robinwood Medical Center and Hagerstown Community College. The advantages in terms of both learning and patient care are obvious. Were money no object, Robinwood, not Allegheny, would probably be the best site.

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Well, money and one other nettlesome detail. Back when Robinwood was built, residents of the community were assured that no acute-care hospital would follow.

This should be a stern reminder to all communities that a Washington County promise is worth nothing. Just ask neighbors of the Mellott "If we just get this one last quarry expansion we'll never ask for another" Estates stone crushers. In Washington County, you will be told what you want to hear, with the idea that 10 years down the road you will either forget, or that the follow-up development will be bulldozed through, regardless of past assurances, under the guise that "the neighborhood has changed."

Well, yes, the neighborhood has changed, but the main reason the neighborhood has changed is that the initial development was allowed to get a toe in the door in the first place. It's a disgrace, but it's the way the leaders we ourselves elect in Washington County do business, so shame on us.

And for those wishing to maintain Robinwood as a quiet, residential community, that day - for better or worse - has passed. It's already filling up with everything from schools to professional offices to storage units.

Robinwood residents might even come to find that hospitals make good neighbors. Hospitals all across the country are situated in residential neighborhoods, as is our current hospital. I lived within a few blocks of the hospital for several years and had no complaints - and this from a man who likes to complain.

As much as I enjoyed the hospital's silly defense of air traffic (helicopters these days have better mufflers) the truth of it is that they are infrequent. It's an occasional medical evacuation, not "Blackhawk Down." Residents might also consider this: If the hospital does not build on this prime piece of ground, something else will and that something else might be far worse.

Traffic is the biggest concern, but even here there are mitigating factors for those who wish to see a bright side. First, a percentage of the cars on Robinwood drive today are employees or patients from the northeast heading to the current hospital. Second, it took talk of the hospital to finally shake the county out of a 20-year stupor and finally get some action toward expanding the Dual Highway intersections that are the cause of frequent gridlock.

Now to the issue of cost. If the new construction doesn't force higher-than-advertised rate increases, I will be the second-most shocked person in the county, right behind Michael Nye.

But in the surreal world of health care, rates are a decipherable theory. On any given day, people know to the penny the price of a gallon of gasoline, but could not come within $500 of guessing the cost of any given medical procedure. To the insured, it is largely irrelevant. To the uninsured, the costs are already so obscenely high, one less percentage point will not save the day.

Besides, when considering the new hospital, care, not costs, should be the prime focus. And it is here that all other concerns fade into the background. From an infrastructure standpoint, Washington County residents have been relegated to 1950s care. We are employing the medical-facility equivalent of leeches, be it in cramped rooms or a paucity of fiber optics.

For those who believe hospital brass has been tone-deaf through this entire process, I am willing to afford hospital officials this benefit of the doubt: They see this debate through the framework of patient care and severe need. Viewed so, it is understandable how they might not see intersections, zoning laws, sewer agreements and the occasional helicopter as matters of particular consequence. It might just be that they see these as distractions to the main goal of healing the sick.

Yes, medicine today is big business and big money. But I doubt anyone is prepared to come forward and suggest that the new hospital is driven by anything other than a sincere recognition of need and concern for the care and comfort of patients. This plan isn't perfect, but if we sit around waiting for one that is, a lot of people will suffer in the meantime.

Be it traffic, fireworks or helicopters, the world is full of distractions that come with living among other people. Everyone is bothered by something, but it is wrong to quash something that benefits many just because it inconveniences a few. We can live with inconvenience; we cannot live without proper, modern health care.

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