Public wants inpatient beds to stay at Chestertown hospital
CHESTERTOWN — If it seems as if the community has been there and done that when it comes to speaking out about what it wants in health care, it’s because it has.
The latest public airing of what are the medical needs of rural areas, with particular focus on Kent County, was held Wednesday night, May 24 in Norman James Theatre on the Washington College campus.
Every seat was filled on the ground level, with the overflow going upstairs to the theater’s balcony. The demographic was noticeably older and white, which has been the rule since the uproar began in January 2016 about possible closure of inpatient beds at University of Maryland Shore Medical Center at Chestertown.
Comments from last week’s public hearing were to be relayed to the Rural Health Care Delivery Workgroup, which is tasked with studying health care delivery in the five Mid-Shore counties.
The message from the public is unchanged: a hospital, not a glorified emergency room, is needed here.
No decision about the hospital’s fate in Chestertown will be made until 2020, thanks to legislation passed by the 2016 General Assembly. Senate Bill 707 rolls out the steps to convert acute care hospitals to freestanding medical facilities, i.e. ERs, but specifically excludes the hospital in Chestertown.
Shore Regional Health, the Easton-based network that is under the umbrella of the University of Maryland Medical System, has promised that it will not take action until 2022.
Quality health care is key to attracting young families and businesses to the area, many who spoke last week said.
KRM Development Corp. is poised to build an 80-acre business campus on the outskirts of Chestertown, an investment that one company official estimated to be “millions of dollars.”
“We won’t be able to be successful without quality health care,” Bryan Matthews, a KRM vice president, said.
“We are in conversations now with some companies who will not make a commitment until this is resolved,” Matthews said. “We probably won’t be able to attract any businesses until this is resolved.”
The three most asked questions when someone is considering relocating their business or their family are: how are the schools? what is the available workforce? and what is the health care?
Schools in Kent County are improving, Matthews said, and there is a workforce in place.
“If we’re going to attract new businesses, health care is the critical piece of the puzzle,” he said.
Jane Hukill, president of HomePorts, said she was concerned about transportation. HomePorts provides services for seniors to allow them to “age in place.”
If inpatient beds are shuttered in Chestertown, how will family members and friends visit their loved ones in Easton or across the Chesapeake Bay, Hukill and others asked.
Zane Carter said a large percentage of school-age children in Kent County are in single-parent homes. How will they be able to visit their parents if there is no hospital locally?
Ben Steffen, executive director of the Maryland Health Care Commission, said “there is a great deal of awareness by the workgroup that this (transportation) presents a significant challenge.”
Beyond that, no assurances about a solution were given.
Glenn Wilson said the University of Maryland shouldn’t think that if the hospital in Chestertown closes, that everyone will go to Easton. There are hospitals in Annapolis and Christiana, Del., that are not part of the UM system.
Wilson was speaking as a recent “come here,” president and CEO of Chesapeake Bank & Trust and chairman of the United Way of Kent County.
He said a key reason that he and his wife moved here a couple of years ago was the hospital.
Speaking as bank president, he said, “If inpatient beds close, this town will wither. It won’t go away, but it will wither.
“The river is nice, the college is nice, the town is pretty. But if you don’t feel you can get quality health care, that’s not a selling point,” Wilson said.
The more affluent population that has retired to Kent County won’t come here, but the needs for the underserved will continue. Wilson said that troubled him as chairman of the United Way, which supports nonprofits including Horizons, Kent Association for Riding Therapy, Medical Adult Day Care, Rebuilding Together and Easter Seals.
As the primary funding source of the University of Medical System, “the state has a responsibility to the town” of Chestertown, Wilson said.
Bryan Matthews, vice president of KRM Development Corp., says a full-service hospital in Chestertown is critical for economic development in Kent County.