Assem­bly OKs hospi­tal bill

Record Observer - - Front Page - By JACK SHAUM jshaum@kibay­

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.mary­ sb0707t.pdf.

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