Heath care com­mis­sion pub­lic hear­ing in Caro­line County

Times-Record - - NEWS - By ABBY AN­DREWS aan­drews@car­o­line­times­record.com

DEN­TON — Caro­line County res­i­dents spoke at a pub­lic hear­ing Tues­day, June 13, about strengths and weak­nesses of ex­ist­ing health care ac­cess in the county, and what they would like to see in the fu­ture.

The hear­ing, hosted by the Ru­ral Health Care De­liv­ery Work Group, was the fi­nal of five such pub­lic hear­ings — one in each Mid-Shore county — held over the past few weeks.

The work group will use in­put gath­ered at the hear­ings to make rec­om­men­da­tions to the Mary­land Health Care Com­mis­sion and state leg­is­la­tors for im­prov­ing health and well-be­ing on the Mid-Shore and in a ru­ral areas around the state, said Dr. Ben St­ef­fen, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Mary­land Health Care Com­mis­sion.

“This is the start of a process,” St­ef­fen said. “At the end of the work group, we won’t have a full so­lu­tion yet, but ideas.”

At the Caro­line County meeting, held at Den­ton Ele­men­tar y School, res­i­dents spoke about the strength of the part­ner­ships be­tween many agen­cies and de­part­ments within the county, but a lack of re­sources.

Ryan Todd, emer­gency med­i­cal ser­vices di­vi­sion chief for the Caro­line County Depart­ment of Emer­gency Ser vices, said emer­gency trans­porta­tion is a chal­lenge, due to both the lo­ca­tion of emer­gency de­part­ments — all out­side the county, as op­posed to one central emer­gency depart­ment within it — and Caro­line’s geog­ra­phy, a tall, skinny county bi­sected by the Chop­tank River.

Todd said he un­der­stands Caro­line County does not have the pop­u­la­tion to sup­port a hospi­tal, but he would like to see a free­stand­ing emer­gency fa­cil­ity that can hold pa­tients for ob­ser­va­tion.

He said the county also needs trans­porta­tion al­ter­na­tives for peo­ple who can­not drive them­selves to rou­tine doc­tor ap­point­ments, but also can­not call a taxi or an Uber. In­stead, Todd said, those pa­tients have to wait un­til they have an emer­gency, to call 911.

Todd praised Chop­tank Com­mu­nity Health Sys­tem and Univer­sity of Mary­land Shore Re­gional Health for strides in in­creas­ing pa­tients’ case man­age­ment, but said more needs to be done.

“We need ev­ery­one to bring (pa­tients’) in­for­ma­tion to­gether to pro­vide more global treat­ment,” Todd said.

Re­cruit­ing and re­tain­ing skilled EMS work­ers is also a chal­lenge in Caro­line County, Todd said, as many en­try-level em­ploy­ees use the county as a train­ing ground be­fore ac­cept­ing jobs with neigh­bor­ing ju­ris­dic­tions that can pay more.

Dr. Derek Sim­mons, di­rec­tor of stu­dent ser­vices for Caro­line County Pub­lic Schools, said the many part­ner­ships within the county are ad­mirable, but they can also stretch ever yone thin.

Sim­mons pointed out Caro­line County is the only county in Mary­land with a well­ness cen­ter in each of its pub­lic schools, thanks to a part­ner­ship with Chop­tank Com­mu­nity Health, which has in­creased be­hav­ioral health ser­vices for stu­dents, but more is needed.

“Stud­ies show trau­matic child­hood ex­pe­ri­ences can lead to longterm health is­sues later in life if they don’t have sup­port,” Sim­mons said, in­clud­ing drug ad­dic­tion, which ties into the opi­oid abuse epi­demic.

A move to a fee-for-ser­vices model has made it even more dif­fi­cult for lower in­come stu­dents to ac­cess those ser­vices, Sim­mons said, though providers Cor­sica River Men­tal Health Ser­vices and For All Sea­sons have been able to pro­cure some grants to cover fees for some stu­dents.

“Be­hav­ioral health care is pre­ven­ta­tive care,” Sim­mons said. “There aren’t a lot of be­hav­ioral health providers in the area even if we had the money to hire them, but we would make room for them in the schools if we could get them. It would help the ac­cess is­sue a lot if they were in schools.”

David Rosario Tor­res, who said he used to work as a com­mu­nity outreach worker with the state’s Well­mo­bile, pro­vid­ing mo­bile health care, said a lack of providers is a prob­lem.

He said he called Chop­tank Health ear­lier that day out of cu­rios­ity, to see how long the wait would be for a new pa­tient to make an ap­point­ment. He said he was told three months.

“If some­one had the flu, they would have to call 911,” Tor­res said.

Sue Sim­mons, di­rec­tor of the Caro­line County Depart­ment of Recre­ation and Parks, said she was con­cerned about the num­ber of peo­ple who work two or three low-wage jobs yet are still un­able to af­ford health in­sur­ance.

“Fed­eral re­form could add to that short­fall,” Sim­mons said.

Sim­mons said the com­mu­nity spa­ces, like a re­cently-opened park in Mary­del, pro­vided by her depart­ment give peo­ple a place to be well as a com­mu­nity.

“In­mates (with the work re­lease pro­gram) who have helped main­tain the new park in Mary­del have said (the park) would’ve been a bet­ter di­ver­sion if it’d been there when they were grow­ing up,” Sim­mons said. “Built en­vi­ron­ment mat­ters. It’s not more im­por­tant than ac­cess to providers but it’s part of it.”

Sim­mons said stress and trauma are a big risk fac­tor for health is­sues, as peo­ple search for ways to disen­gage and numb them­selves, of­ten turn­ing to drugs.

More res­i­dents spoke about a need for more spe­cial­ists on the Eastern Shore, and bet­ter be­hav­ioral health and trans­porta­tion ser­vices.

Dr. Joseph Ciotola, Queen Anne’s County health of­fi­cer and a mem­ber of the Ru­ral Health Care De­liv­ery Work Group, closed the hear­ing by say­ing the group has been work­ing on its rec­om­men­da­tions for nine months, and he is “ready to de­liver that baby.”

“We are look­ing at this from an in­no­va­tive stand­point to pro­vide qual­ity, ef­fec­tive health care across the board,” Ciotola said.

The Mar yland Health Care Com­mis­sion is still ac­cept­ing pub­lic com­ment by email. To pro­vide com­ments, send email to Erin Dor­rien, chief of gov­ern­ment and pub­lic af­fairs, at erin.dor­rien@mary­land.gov; or to Kathy Ruben, cen­ter for health care fa­cil­i­ties plan­ning and devel­op­ment, at kath­leen.ruben@mary­land.gov.

Send writ­ten com­ments to the Mary­land Health Care Com­mis­sion, 4160 Pat­ter­son Ave., Bal­ti­more MD 21215.

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