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Doubts about plans for new hospital

December 18, 2005|By Michael Mower

To the editor:



I wish to join with Joe Lane and Michael Nye and a growing number of local citizens opposing a new Washington County Hospital near Mount Aetna Road near the overcrowded Dual Highway/Robinwood corridors.

This entire journey has been a public relations nightmare for the hospital and an exercise in frustration and anger for the city and community. Because no matter how the hospital spins it, the process has never been about what the hospital can do for the community, it has been about what the community can do for the hospital.

The hospital's deception began with the reneging of its promise that it would not build at that location after they got the Robinwood Medical Center.

Next, they ignored their own site selection committee's top site recommendation - near an interstate highway. They have been set on this Robinwood Drive site the entire time, with an in-your-face and the-heck-with-the-community (and taxpayers) attitude.

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The hospital needs to be on an unencumbered road, near an interstate and interchange for many reasons:

1. The site needs direct emergency access resulting in expedient transport of emergency patients.

2. The site needs safe ingress and egress for all users of the facility, including employees, doctors, deliveries, patients and visitors.

3. Emergency runs to the hospital should not jeopardize the safety of school children and the local residents.

4. The site should not adversely affect quality of life to neighborhood residents.

Even now, neighbors, friends and relatives in the proposed impact zone cannot turn left into traffic from their drives and/or side streets.

Consequently, they must turn right and make unsafe U-turns. Let's also not forget the noise and sirens and even "stealth" choppers.

5. Access-infrastructure cost (taxpayer funds) has not been of importance to the hospital. How come our neighboring cities had the wisdom and foresight to see this locating issue correctly and built, or will build, their hospitals without this controversy?

Winchester, Va., built on the outer limits of its growth perimeter next to two intersecting, four-lane divided roads. It only took a couple traffic signals, two crossovers and some deceleration/acceleration lanes to get them safely operational.

Martinsburg, W.Va., built outside of its (then) growth limit by an interstate highway. It lobbied intensely, and eventually got an adjacent interstate interchange. Cumberland, Md., is building its new hospital on Willowbrook Road at a site that is a straight, one-mile run from an Interstate 68 interchange. Willowbrook Road is an unencumbered road that can be readily and economically widened and upgraded as traffic increases dictate.

These relatively inexpensive hospital access improvements were funded by federal and state highway user revenue, not through county property and income tax revenues.

The hospital's spin on the benefits of this Robinwood site are greatly overstated. There are many more doctors in offices throughout the city and county than the 100 claimed to be at the medical center.

It certainly will not hurt those doctors currently at the medical center to drive a couple of miles to a better hospital site (they already are) just as their counterparts throughout the county are already doing. And whoever heard of "walking across campus" for an instant consultation without an appointment? The system just doesn't work that way.

One can understand the Maryland Health Care Commission approving the need for an improved hospital facility. But I don't put much credence into its knowledge of these local issues, nor its understanding of local traffic issues. I expect that they, too, would have preferred a better location for the hospital for the many reasons cited. They, like the hospital, are less concerned about the infrastructure issues, neighborhood hardships, inconvenience and taxpayer costs (particularly since nonmedical expenses and revenues are involved).

What about the traffic impact and inconvenience cost of two or more years of disruptive construction work on roads to this site? Why should the hospital get a height variance and block the view of distant mountains that many neighbors now enjoy? That's one reason why we have this zoning height requirement. If the hospital is built at that height, see if more of our taxes will be needed to purchase a couple of $1 million-plus ladder trucks for local fire departments.

Sure, building costs are escalating. Most of the construction increases to date can be attributed to the hospital's mishandling of the site selection aspect. Have someone look at the design. I'm sure many frills that can be eliminated from the project.

Let's cut the frills and unnecessary amenities and take the time to get a better site with much less of an infrastructure burden and with fewer safety and quality-of-life issues for our neighborhood and community at large.

Michael Mower

Hagerstown

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