Assembly OKs hospital bill
ANNAPOLIS — Legislation calling for a study of health care in rural areas that also delays any possible partial closing of the University of Maryland Shore Medical Center at Chestertown is headed for the desk of Gov. Larry Hogan for his signature.
Senate Bill 707 received final approval in the Maryland House of Delegates by a vote of 131-0 on Saturday, April 9, three days before the end of the 2016 session of the Maryland General Assembly. The bill had earlier passed the State Senate on a vote of 46-0.
The legislation — sponsored by Sen. Thomas Middleton, D-10-Charles, Sen. Steve Hershey, R-36-Upper Shore, and Sen. James Mathias, D-38-Somerset, Worcester, and Wicomico — is designed to facilitate the conversion of full service hospitals to free-standing medical facilities without in-patient services.
It was amended, however, to state that “a licensed hospital located in Kent County may not convert to a freestanding medical facility ... before July 1, 2020.” There has been concern in the Kent and Queen Anne’s counties region for some time that such a conversion might be possible.
“Drawing attention to the potential closure or reduction of services at Chestertown hospital was my highest priority this session,” Hershey said. Backers of the legislation, he added, were able to convince committee chairpersons in the General Assembly that the delivery of health care in rural areas is “very different” from that in urban and suburban areas.
“The passage of SB 707 is a big victory for the Eastern Shore. It has put our concerns in front of a lot of very influential people that oversee the health care systems in Maryland,” he continued. “The amendments and commitment of these individuals made me proud to add my name as a co-sponsor of the bill.”
He gave credit to Middleton — the bill’s primary sponsor — for his role “in helping our region evaluate our health care services.”
The legislation will establish a work group to study the delivery of health care in rural areas, but will focus on Queen Anne’s, Kent, Caroline, Talbot and Dorchester counties, according to Hershey. It calls for public hearings “to gain public input regarding the health care needs in the five study counties,” and Hershey said that is an important component of the legislation.
The work group will consist of the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, the chairman of the House Health and Government Operations Committee, two members of the House and two members of the Senate from rural areas appointed by the Senate President and Speaker of the House, the chief executive of McCready Memorial Hospital in Crisfield and the chief executive of Garrett Regional Medical Center in Oakland, according to the bill.
It will also be made up of “individuals representing the interests of health care providers, business, labor, State and local government, consumers, and other stakeholder groups, appointed by the Maryland Health Care Commission.” The commission will choose the chair of the work group, the bill states.
According to the legislation, the study will be carried out “by an entity with expertise in rural health care delivery” to “examine challenges to the delivery of health care in the five study counties, including the limited availability of health care providers and services; the special needs of vulnerable populations; transportation barriers; and the economic impact of the closure, partial closure, or conversion of a health care facility.”
The bill will take effect on July 1, and the work group is required to report the findings and recommendations of its study on or before Oct. 1, 2017. The full text of the final bill and associated documents can be read by logging onto http://mgaleg.maryland.gov/2016RS/bills/sb/ sb0707t.pdf.