Hospital officials stress positives
Public raises concerns about plan
PERRYVILLE — Saying that the new face of health care in Cecil and Harford counties “is less competition and more collaboration,” officials with Union Hospital and University of Maryland Upper Chesapeake Health System stood their ground on plans to scale down the number of patient beds when it moves to a new $180 million, 97-acre campus next to Bulle Rock.
“These collaborations are raising the quality of care and that’s what health care is all about,” said Richard Szumel, president and CEO of Union Hospital. “The net gain is better care at a lower cost.”
Upper Chesapeake president and CEO Lyle Sheldon said Harford Memorial Hospital, which has been on Union Avenue in Havre de Grace since 1943, has outlived its usefulness, and is penned in on a 9-acre plot in the center of the city. Those living in walking distance of the five-story structure voiced a number of concerns, however, including the loss of accessibility to those who lack transportation when medical offices eventually migrate to the planned medical campus on the edge of city’s limit.
Carolyn Zinner, a local activist sitting amongst a group wearing matching Tshirts urging that Harford Memorial be saved, said the loss of hospital beds puts the area below average for what is considered standard coverage for the population.
“And this is a rural population,” she said of the areas most served by the hospital.
“There’s going to be a lot of ‘windshield time’ to get services,” she said, referring to the distance driven from areas such as Conowingo and Port Deposit.
Other concerns centered on what would happen to the aging hospital structure once the move was
Havre de Grace resident Jason Roberts told the officials that any trip into downtown Baltimore is evidence of the detriment of abandoned buildings.
“Will there be 20 years of blight around this 9 acres of property?” he asked. “Vacant buildings are never a good situation.”
Perryville Mayor Jim Eberhardt added that the loss of traffic will also be felt by the surrounding businesses and community.
“Elkton will tell you about the economic impact when the county administration building left the downtown area,” he said at the public meeting held at Minker Banquet Hall at the Community Fire Company of Perryville station house. “It’s the traffic from the florist shops and the restaurants.”
Port Deposit Mayor Wayne Tome and Perryville Commissioner Ray Ryan spoke for the ambulance services in Cecil County, voicing concern that the system
now is overtaxed, and making it smaller would not help.
“I waited for two hours,” Ryan, a member of the Perryville Fire Company, said of a recent ambulance run to Harford Memorial. “You can’t always handle what’s coming in now.”
Sheldon said the new emergency department would be larger, with 22 emergency bays, but only a dozen “short-stay” inpatient beds and 10 behavioral health observation bays. The new age of health
care means fewer hospitalizations and more care at home or by telecommunication, he added. Sheldon also said by combining services and sharing between Union and Upper Chesapeake means less concern for recruitment and retention of doctors in each specialty across numerous locations.
According to Sheldon, doctors
coming out of medical schools these days no longer want a private practice, but would rather become part of a hospital-affiliated practice with the latest equipment.
While Ryan noted that patient outcomes could be different if the ambulance drive is extended to Bel Air or Christiana, Del., Sheldon reminded the audience that the Bulle Rock campus would have a helipad with a dedicated place for medevac helicopters to take off and land.
One question that was never answered was when the intensive care unit at Harford Memorial Hospital would be closed. Sheldon used the transition from Fallston General Hospital to Upper Chesapeake as evidence that they have a working plan to make such a move. None of the officials would confirm nor deny a date for that eventual move.
While Harford Memorial would have its medical-surgical services stripped down, Sheldon said Union Hospital and Upper Chesapeake’s behavioral health centers would move to Havre de Grace complete with a 16-bed crisis unit.
“Why can’t we have a full-service hospital?,” Zinner asked. “Why do I have to go 40 miles for help? This community is growing. You have the room.”
Zinner suggested that the behavioral health program go to the Bel Air campus instead.
“Don’t take away our beds,” she said.
Richard Szumel, president and CEO of Union Hospital, explains the new era of regional health care, which is more about “collaboration than competition.”
Free T-shirts were offered to those residents of Cecil and Harford County who are behind the effort to keep a full-service hospital in Havre de Grace.