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Judges should consider patients in zoning case

September 25, 2007

To the distinguished judges of Maryland's Court of Special Appeals:

On Aug. 20, we and many others in the Hagerstown area were pleased with your ruling in favor of allowing the Washington County Hospital to build a new facility near the Robinwood Medical Center.

As you are no doubt aware, had there been no legal challenges in this case, it's likely that a new, state-of-the-art hospital would already be open at that location.

Because of the legal maneuvers, however, construction has been delayed and costs have increased. And the hospital has been forced to spend more than $1 million just to keep the old facility operating.

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We bring up these matters because the attorney for hospital opponents last week filed for a reconsideration, citing what he felt were errors in the opinion written by retired Court of Appeals Judge Lawrence F. Rodowsky.

The court will have to rule on those, but we would hope that the judges would keep in mind one important distinction in this case: Zoning cases that come to court involve disputes over land use - often on matters such as whether a new retail store or housing development can be built.

In such cases, there is usually a lot of money riding on the outcome. That's true in this case, too.

But the additional element in this case is that it involves the health and welfare of patients in Washington County and the surrounding areas.

The new hospital's design will make it easier to isolate those with infectious diseases and provide privacy to more patients, who will not have to be rolled through public corridors, while, for example, experiencing the pain of childbirth.

The new hospital's location will also make it possible for doctors with offices there to see private patients and still remain "on call" for trauma victims, since the physicians would only have to walk across a courtyard, as opposed to driving across town.

We're also certain that the learned judges are aware that there is a shortage of physicians, particularly in some specialties. Those doctors who have a choice need not choose to work in an old hospital, when there are new facilities that would be more than happy to have them on staff.

What that means for the patients (and their visitors) is longer travel time to and from the hospital. At a time when stress is already high, should the sick really be forced to accept longer commutes to obtain care?

No, they shouldn't.

The opponents in this case have focused on the language of the zoning laws and various decisions made in years past. They appear to be sincere in their concern about upholding the integrity of the zoning ordinance.

We ask them and the court to consider another group of affected parties who, to our knowledge, have not submitted their own briefs.

They are the sick, the suffering and all of those who will need care in the near future. At this point, they must count on the justice system to assist them in getting the best possible health care. Please help them obtain it, before it's too late.

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