Helipad repair latest waste of hospital cash

August 21, 2007

The Washington County Hospital announced last week that it would close its helipad for repair for the next two weeks.

During that time, helicopters will land at the helipad at the U.S. Army Reserve Center at East Franklin and Willard streets, about a mile from the hospital.

For patients and members of the Hagerstown Fire Department, who stand by at all non-hospital helicopter landings, this is a temporary inconvenience.

But as necessary as it is, the dollars that will go into this repair will be wasted, because when the hospital makes its move to a new location, the helipad will be torn down along with everything else.


The move to a new site at Robinwood has been held up by a challenge to the zoning. After a local judge ruled the hospital could proceed, an appeal was filed and heard in June by the Maryland Court of Special Appeals.

That same month, hospital officials said they had been forced to spend $3 million to upgrade and repair facilities - projects that wouldn't have been necessary had the hospital moved to Robinwood on time.

That included $250,000 in improvements to the emergency department, to cut down on long waiting times there.

In a June interview, The Herald-Mail interviewed Mary Towe, a hospital vice president and chief nursing officer on the human cost of the hospital delays.

They included:

· Some operating rooms are too small for the modern equipment used in surgery. Instead of being ceiling-mounted, as it will be in the new hospital, such equipment now crowds surgical staff.

· The emergency room, designed for 45,000 patients per year, is now seeing 70,000. That can mean long waits, Towe said, adding that 8.5 percent of those who come in for treatment leave without being seen. The national average is 2 percent. To deal with that, the hospital had to add beds to the emergency department.

· Hallways aren't as wide as modern standards require and the layout of the hospital is such that patients often have to be moved from one floor to another for tests.

· Because most of the present rooms have two beds, many can't be fully occupied since it's the hospital's policy not to put unmarried male and female patients in the same room. There is also a lack of privacy in the present arrangement.

We mention all of this to bring home the point that this dispute is not over the zoning for a new shopping center. If a retail store's construction is delayed, shoppers can go elsewhere.

Not so with the hospital. Other than traveling out of the county for care, there is no real alternative for patients.

In this proceeding, they are innocent bystanders, unable to affect the outcome of the court case, but forced to deal with the problems it causes.

When the Court of Special Appeals rules on this case, we hope those who have appealed will think less about zoning rules and regulations and more about the sick and suffering people who are inconvenienced as a result of these proceedings.

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