Pub­lic wants in­pa­tient beds to stay at Ch­ester­town hos­pi­tal

Record Observer - - Classifieds - By TR­ISH MCGEE pm­cgee@thekent­coun­tynews.com

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.

PHOTO BY TR­ISH MCGEE

Bryan Matthews, vice pres­i­dent of KRM De­vel­op­ment Corp., says a full-ser­vice hos­pi­tal in Ch­ester­town is crit­i­cal for eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment in Kent County.

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