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Consider community's health needs

April 07, 2007

To the editor:

I am writing this letter in support of the Washington County Hospital's move to the Robinwood medical campus and to make a personal request to the five appellants who currently stand in the way.

In recent weeks, much has been written in the pages of The Herald-Mail about this highly debated topic, an evolving controversy that has pitted a group of appellants known as Citizens for Responsible Health Care against the Washington County Hospital.

Depending on one's perspective, both sides have been wrongly vilified; the hospital as being the big bully on the block and the appellants as unwelcome newcomers.

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Over the last few years, the "sides" of this controversy have been ever-evolving: the hospital vs. the City of Hagerstown; native vs. non-native residents; and, interestingly enough, appellants vs. former appellants. When all the peripheral arguments are removed, however, it all comes down to only two sides: One either supports the proposed Robinwood site or not.

No one is disputing the need for a new hospital in Washington County. According to the hospital, its emergency room, designed to serve 45,000 patients a year, is overwhelmed with 70,000 patients per year. Concerns regarding this issue were recently brought forth by EMS personnel and The Herald-Mail has published many letters from hospital employees and local physicians, all indicating overwhelming support for the new site at Robinwood.

Even the appellants themselves do not dispute the need for a new hospital. As Gordon Bartels was quoted in an interview with Bob Maginnis, "This is not about the need for a new hospital, but about the integrity of the zoning." The crux of the appellants' argument, and those in the community who support them, is that the hospital promised it would not build an acute-care facility at Robinwood and has now reneged on that promise, a claim obviously disputed by the hospital.

It appears that some members of the community have embraced the appellants and their cause because it is an example of the "little guy" standing up against a larger entity that has ulterior motives.

I don't buy into that sentiment, however, and I hope that the majority of the residents of Washington County don't either. I believe that the hospital has acted in good faith in order to provide the best health care for us now and for future generations.

Like all community residents, I have concerns about the future of health care in this area, but particularly now, since my wife and I are expecting a child this summer. I have the utmost faith that the Washington County Hospital and its employees will be able to provide that health care, but I believe they will be in a better position to do so if the hospital is allowed to move forward sooner rather than later.

Moreover, I believe that it is important to move forward regardless of any decision a court makes about what was promised or not promised at zoning discussions that took place 16 years ago. As most citizens would agree, the size and needs of Washington County have changed greatly since 1991. Our community requires an updated hospital than can keep pace with a larger and ever-growing population - and we need this hospital now.

To the appellants: I respectfully request that you reconsider your stance on this issue. While no one would deny you your right to appeal, the forthcoming legal process is only going to cost the citizens of Washington County more time and money and more importantly, deny them access to improved and more immediate health care.

If you truly stand by your moniker, than perhaps a re-evaluation of your priorities wouldn't hurt. Washington County certainly needs "responsible health care." In my view, however, that phrase would be defined by accessible, improved and state-of-the art medical care and not questions about zoning.

I know that many people, including hospital and local government representatives, have asked you to drop your appeal. Physicians, nurses and other health-care providers have made it overwhelmingly clear that they support the move and have therefore made the same request.

Even one of your own has recently spoken out in support of the move. You have no doubt heard appeals from other concerned citizens like me, so perhaps there is nothing left to be said to change your minds. But, if you truly believe in the interests of this community, and by "community" I mean all citizens served by Washington County Hospital, I hope that you will reconsider your appeal.

W. Christopher Baer

Hagerstown

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