Munson seeking help for Washington County Hospital

April 13, 2007|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

WASHINGTON COUNTY - Concerned that rising costs could kill a plan to build a new Washington County Hospital, a state senator is seeking possible solutions.

Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, said he expects to meet with the Maryland Health Services Cost Review Commission, possibly in May or June, to brainstorm ideas.

Other members of Washington County's delegation to the Maryland General Assembly are invited.

Munson said he has been told that, starting about three months ago, the estimated cost of a new hospital on Robinwood Drive was on track to soar high enough to put the project in doubt.

"Somehow, we've got to find a way to figure out this problem," he said.

Asked why the delegation would get involved, he said, "Because the leaders in the county can't figure out how to build a new hospital."


Two other delegation members said they support Munson's effort.

But an official with Washington County Health System, the hospital's parent company, was more skeptical.

James Hamill, Washington County Health System's president and CEO, was not available for comment Thursday.

Instead, spokeswoman Maureen Theriault checked with Raymond Grahe, the health system's director of finance, about Munson's comments.

Theriault reported that Grahe did not think the Health Services Cost Review Commission could do anything for the hospital project now.

The commission, an oversight agency, previously approved an increase in rates when a new hospital opens.

Robert Murray, the commission's executive director, couldn't be reached for comment Thursday.

Theriault also reported, from Grahe, that the guaranteed maximum cost of construction, including heating, ventilation and air conditioning, is about $130 million and has not changed.

The overall project cost - with water and sewer service, roads, equipment, engineering, site preparation and demolition of the current hospital on East Antietam Street - remains about $255 million, Theriault reported.

Two top city and county government officials were cool to Munson's statement that local leadership has fallen short. Washington County Commissioners President John F. Barr said the statement "concerned" him.

In the county, "to the best of my knowledge, government's done about all it can do," Barr said, noting that the project was given a "fast-track" review and received its necessary approvals.

Hagerstown also has done exactly what it should have, particularly through a water and sewer service agreement, Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II said.

The project has been delayed by a court appeal by five residents challenging county zoning variances. The Maryland Court of Special Appeals has not heard their case.

The Health System and elected officials have urged the residents to drop their appeal, arguing that it's getting in the way of improved health care. The residents and their attorney, though, have not given up.

A bill in the past Maryland General Assembly session was aimed at the appellants. It called for anyone challenging a zoning or land-use decision for a Washington County medical facility to secure a bond covering costs tied to the delay.

Without support from the county's delegation, the bill died in a House committee.

Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington, whose sole sponsorship of the bill drew criticism from within the delegation, said he was trying to help the hospital project as best as he could.

This week, Del. Richard B. Weldon Jr., R-Frederick/Washington, who called the bill a "chilling" restraint on citizen involvement in government, said the delegation now is obligated to help with the hospital project.

Weldon and Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, said they plan to attend Munson's meeting.

"The risk of not having a new hospital is serious enough that we need to put our heads together," Shank said.

Know more in 15 seconds

The issue: A plan to build a new Washington County Hospital has been delayed by a court appeal by five county residents challenging zoning variances.

What happened: Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, said he is concerned that the delay could drive up the cost of the proposed hospital so much that it might not be built.

What's next: Munson plans to meet with the Maryland Health Services Cost Review Commission in May or June to work on ideas to help the project.

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