The Maryland Health Care Commission yesterday gave unanimous approval to plans by Washington County Hospital to build a replacement facility just outside the city of Hagerstown.
The hospital still needs to resolve a variety of local issues - zoning approval, water and sewer service and road improvements - before it can move ahead with the new, 267-bed, $235 million facility at the Robinwood Medical Center, a medical office complex it already owns.
The city government, which favored a new site near the current one inside the city, had opposed the hospital's plans through state review for two years - a virtually unprecedented action by a local government. The city, however, didn't object when approval was recommended last month, and didn't have a representative speak at yesterday's commission meeting.
"The city fought a hard battle," said Robert E. Nicolay, the commission member who reviewed the application in detail and recommended approval to his colleagues. "They didn't want to lose a hospital they had had for 100 years."
He said the city's concerns over size and cost had been addressed during the review process, and called on city and hospital officials to work together to resolve the remaining issues and have the project move ahead.
During the two years of review, the hospital dropped plans to add 30 more beds, and a proposed rate increase to help pay for the project was reduced to 4.7 percent from 13.1 percent.
The hospital hopes to obtain needed approvals and begin construction in the next few months, with the new building opening in 2008.
Penny Nigh, a member of the Hagerstown City Council who attended the commission meeting, said, "I don't see it getting resolved, but I'm only one person." She said she saw limits on sewer capacity in the area as a significant problem.