Hershey-sponsored bill will support hospital campaign
CHESTERTOWN — Some community members believe that not enough was done during the recently completed 90-day General Assembly session to advance the Save the Hospital in Chestertown campaign, rousing concern that in another year there may not be a hospital to save. That was the starting-off point for the May 10 “strat- egy” meeting that brought together physicians, community activists and the entire 36th District delegation to the second floor of the Chestertown town hall building. Also attending were Dr. Leland Spencer, Kent County’s health officer, and Deborah Mizeur, co-chairman of the state Rural Health Care Delivery Workgroup. There was no representation from University of Maryland Shore Regional Health, the Easton-based medical care network that includes UM Shore Medical Center at Chestertown. State Sen. Steve Hershey, R-Upper Shore, assured the audience of about 50 people, most of them 60 and older, that work was being done behind the scenes. Mizeur credited Hershey with drafting two bills and leading what she described
as the “premier legislation” through the Senate and House in 2018. On Tuesday, Gov. Larry Hogan signed Senate Bill 1056 that establishes the Rural Health Collaborative Pilot in the Maryland Department of Health. The bill includes $500,000 to set up what Mizeur and Hershey informally called the collaborative, which will lead a regional partnership in building a rural health system that enhances access to and utilization of health care services designed to meet certain goals. SB 1056 also establishes a Rural Health Care Collaborative Executive Committee, charged with appointing an executive director and establishing certain rural health complexes. Anne Arundel Medical Center, a regional health system headquartered in Annapolis, will have a seat on the executive committee. Hershey said that is important because AAMC is a provider on the Eastern Shore and is becoming more prominent. “Although it is an uncomfortable conversation sometimes with respect to AAMC and what Shore Regional Health are doing, they (AAMC) are a player in providing health care services,” Hershey said, adding that UM Shore Regional Health put up some opposition to AAMC’s participation on the executive committee. The second amendment to SB 1056 was to make sure that the collaborative takes a look at inpatient services. “We believed that it was already known to be in there, but we wanted to make sure that the collaborative was going to take a look at inpatient services because we knew that was critical here in Chestertown,” said Hershey, who serves on the Finance Committee. Sen. Thomas “Mac” Middleton of Charles County, who threw his support behind legislation in 2016 that keeps inpatient beds here until 2020, is chariman of the Finance Committee. Establishing the collaborative was a direct result of the 14 months of work done by the Rural Health Care Delivery Workgroup, whose mission was to develop a plan for meeting the health care needs of residents of Caroline, Dorchester, Kent, Queen Anne’s and Talbot counties. “If we didn’t come out with such a good work product, I don’t think we would have gotten this bill passed,” Hershey said, thanking Mizeur and workgroup cochairman, Dr. Joseph Ciotola, health officer and EMS director for Queen Anne’s County. The Secretary of the Maryland Department of Health has the final say on the membership, which can number as many as 30 with a 12-member executive committee. Spencer said the collaborative’s primary objective is to conceptualize the rural health complexes. “We start off by either doing a needs assessment or looking at needs assessments that have been done in the past, and identify communities that do not have essential services,” he said, noting that the legislature defines what are essen- tial services — such things as access to primary care, dental health, behavioral health and speciality care services. The objective is to tailormake complexes so that communities receive these services, Spencer said. The hospital in Chestertown could serve as a complex site. Spencer said feedback is needed from the public to help shape and guide design of the complexes. Hershey acknowledged that some community members were disappointed that SB 1056 doesn’t directly address the Chestertown hospital. “I assure you that when this collaborative looks at the five counties that Shore Regional Health manages, this is the process that we needed to do in order to focus more of our efforts on the Chestertown hospital,” he said. “I am very comfortable with that.” Hershey vocalized his concern that UM Shore Regional Health, which has committed to keeping the hospital here “open” until 2022, has started to decrease or eliminate services. “That’s not what we expected when we said you have to remain open. We’re finding that Shore Regional Health might not be living up to their promise,” he said. Dr. Jerry O’Connor, a surgeon with more than 35 years in Chestertown who has been on the front line of the Save the Hospital campaign from day one, and Dr. Michael Peimer, an internist with a practice here, agreed. O’Connor said he thinks SRH is intentionally trying to lower the census in Chestertown by transferring as many patients as possible to other University of Maryland Medical System facilities and not replacing physicians when they leave here. A lower census, he said, “makes it look like we don’t need a hospital, allows them to furlough nurses and cuts back expenses.” “It’s part of the process of not nurturing. They’re not interested in nurturing,” Peimer said. “We need more services, we need more providers. We’re inefficient because we’re small,” he said. Mizeur said her perception is that UM Shore Regional Health hasn’t made an effort to promote the positive things that are going on with the hospital. Not doing so, she said, erodes the public’s confidence. Hershey is calling for an audit of services that are currently being offered and what services had been offered in the recent past. Mizeur said making a request to the Maryland Department of Health for an audit is “exactly the right next move” to guarantee UM Shore Regional Health is appropriately stewarding the resource here as a hospital so that it “doesn’t somehow default into a status that is illegal.” She said there is an expectation that the collaborative will be doing an assessment of inpatient needs locally at the same time as the audit is being conducted. After that, negotiations will begin to make sure those services are provided, she said. There also was a brief discussion about naming a successor to Galena resident Scott Burleson, who resigned in late February as the onsite executive director of UM Shore Medical Center at Chestertown. Peimer said there were two internal candidates; he did not name them. He anticipated it would be another month or two before a new hire is announced. Patti Willis, UM Shore Regional Health’s senior vice president for strategy and communications, confirmed in an email Tuesday that there are two finalists. She said the second — and likely last — round of interviews will be completed by the end of May. The finalists are being interviewed by representatives from four groups: physicians council, board of directors and foundation board members, Chestertown management and senior executives. Willis said a likely decision, “if consensus is reached on these candidates,” will be made by mid-June. In the meantime, Kathy Elliott of Fairlee is wearing two hats as director of nursing and interim executive director.
State Sen. Steve Hershey, R-36-Upper Shore, talks about legislation that would assist the Save the Hospital campaign in Chestertown. From left are Del. Steve Arentz, R-36-Queen Anne’s, Hershey, Dr. Michael Peimer and Dr. Jerry O’Connor.