Her­shey-spon­sored bill will sup­port hos­pi­tal cam­paign

Kent County News - - FRONT PAGE - By TR­ISH MCGEE pm­cgee@thekent­coun­tynews.com

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.

PHOTO BY TR­ISH MCGEE

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.

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