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Lengthy appeal won't improve quality of medical care locally

January 24, 2006

On Thursday, a group known as Citizens for Responsible Health Care filed petitions to appeal two zoning approvals that would have helped pave the way for construction of a new Washington County Hospital at Robinwood.

The appeal was not unexpected, but it is regrettable nonetheless. We believe that locating a new hospital next to the Robinwood Medical Center would have a number of advantages, including:

Cutting travel times for doctors from their offices to the hospital, especially those trauma doctors who are on call.

Even those whose offices are not at Robinwood could see patients there on their on-call days, allowing them to better use their time and ensuring that they would be nearby if an emergency required them to respond.

Allowing planners for the new hospital to eliminate some facilities that are already available at the medical center. A hospital located elsewhere would have to provide for all services on site, including a full complement of X-ray suites and medical laboratories.

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J. Michael Nye, coordinator of the opposition group, on Friday said the zoning approvals had "seven defects," but declined to list them, on advice of an attorney. We'll comment when we hear more about them.

Nye did accuse the Washington County Health System of attempting to build an expensive new facility that would not improve patient care.

According to health system officials, the new hospital will have wards laid out in a "hub-and-spoke" fashion with a nurses' station in the center, reducing the distance health-care workers must travel when a patient calls.

All rooms in the new hospital will be single rooms, addressing privacy issues and making it easier to isolate patients with the flu or other communicable diseases.

Plans also call for a special nursery for babies born before 36 weeks.

Nye and the members of his group are not health-care experts. The proposal for the new hospital was reviewed by the Maryland Health Care Commission, just one of a number of agencies that monitor hospital care, practices and rates charged.

Nye is on firmer ground when he talks about the road problems in the Robinwood area. Except for the section of Robinwood Drive that runs past the medical center, traffic going through the area must navigate on two-lane roads.

Growth in enrollment at nearby Hagerstown Community College and travel to and from the many new homes and apartment units built there can slow traffic to a crawl at times - or stop it completely when there is a "fender bender" or more serious accident.

This situation has developed despite the fact that Robinwood has been designated a "new community area" for more than 25 years. During that time, the new community's roads - and the way traffic moves on them - have gotten old indeed.

The county government has promised the project a "fast track" review. For the safety of patients traveling there by ambulance, the county must also "fast track" its upgrades of the roads and intersections leading to the new hospital.

This appeal has the potential to delay the project for months or even years. If this were a private endeavor, the cost of that delay would be borne by a private individual or developer.

In this case, the costs will be borne by a community that won't get the modern hospital it needs as quickly as it would otherwise.

If there is a way to settle this without a protracted appeals process, we urge hospital officials and Nye's group to explore ways to settle their differences.

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