Council Hears Updates on Hospital

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Ken Kozel of Shore Regional Health reports to the Chestertown Coucil.

Ken Kozel, CEO of University of Maryland Shore Regional Health, gave an update on projects involving the Chestertown Hospital at the Chestertown Council meeting, Nov. 6. Included in the report was a summary of the Maryland Rural Health Workgroup report concerning the long-term future of the hospital.

Kozel said the workgroup held its last meeting Sept. 28, and concluded its study at that time. All the recommendations were approved unanimously, he said, and added that Shore Regional Health concurs in the approval. The recommendations must now make their way to approval by various bodies, including the General Assembly, the Maryland Healthcare Commission and the Health Services Cost Review Commission.

Kozel said Shore Regional Health will work closely with the Assembly to see that the recommendations are enacted. However, the two state commissions are also important to the approval process, he said. In particular, the designation of Chestertown as a rural community access hospital, which would allow it to remain fully open past 2022, is under the purview of the Healthcare Commission. Also, funding for the hospital’s programs must be vetted by the Cost Review Commission.

“I think we did a really good job of defining why we’re unique and what some of the additional expenses are associated with running rural healthcare in Maryland,” Kozel said. But getting the recommendations approved is the key next step, and that is “where the heavy lifting comes in,” he said. He asked the community at large to support the recommendations to ensure that they are approved.

Preserving inpatient beds at the hospital was one of the recommendations, Kozel said, along with a 24/7 emergency room and surgical services. He said Shore Regional Health had asked for 10 inpatient beds. However, he said, the state would make the final determination on the number of beds, depending on census figures and other data. Shore Regional Health had set the number of beds at 10 based on current conditions and the mandate to reduce the number of inpatient admissions, he said.

Councilman Marty Stetson asked how many beds the hospital now has. Kozel said the facility is licensed for 30 beds. “Based on the time of year, we could run anywhere from six inpatient beds to 30,” he said – during flu season, it could be even higher, he said.

Mayor Chris Cerino asked what the time frame would be for full implementation of the workforce’s recommendations. Kozel said some would be in place early next year, while others would have to wait to the next fiscal year, beginning in July. “But the wheels of the state government sometimes move a little slowly,” he said.

Councilman Sam Shoge asked what factors determine the number of beds the state will set for a given area. Kozel said population density is a key issue, but also the age of the population and whether the long-term trend is toward growth or shrinking. Length of stay is also a factor, along with the severity of the conditions being treated.

In addition to the workgroup report, Kozel reported on the hospital’s relations with Compass Regional Hospice and with the Shore Manor nursing and rehabilitation facility. He said a recent assessment of the hospital’s assets showed that Shore Manor is the only rehab and nursing home in the University of Maryland Medical System. Because of changes in the nursing home industry, he said, “we are really not the right party to be managing that facility for the benefit of the patients and the community.” Consequently, UMMS is looking for a buyer for Shore Manor.

Kozel, said UMMS recognizes the value of Shore Manor to the community, and as a result has “very specific conditions” any prospective buyer must meet. In particular, he said, UMMS doesn’t want to sell to someone who plans to “flip” it for a short-term profit.  “We see it as definitely part of the continuum of care” that the community needs. The manor should be able to see more acute care patients, to reduce pressure on inpatient beds. He said the facility currently has 92 licensed beds. Also, any prospective buyer must be willing to commit to upgrading and modernizing the facility. He said more than 19 potential buyers had taken the preliminary step of filling out a nondisclosure agreement. “I’m encouraged,” he said. If all goes smoothly, an agreement could be reached by spring.

Shoge asked if UMMS was open to the idea of combining the nursing home with a day care facility, as has been done in some other communities. Kozel said UMMS is open to any ideas that increase the viability of the facility, as long as the new operator complies with the conditions of sale.

Kozel also detailed the agreement with Compass Regional Hospice to install a four-bed hospice center in the hospital, as detailed in a recent Spy article. He described it as a win-win for the two facilities, with the hospital providing support services while Compass provides the medical care. The facility should be running shortly after the first of the year.

Also at the meeting, the council voted, after a brief public hearing, to annex the property housing the town’s wastewater plant. The property, along John Hanson Road just past Radcliffe Creek, comprises some 149 acres. It will be zoned Institutional, and is not subject to development.

In addition, the council approved a resolution authorizing the mayor to approve loans to cover infrastructure improvements at the town-owned marina. Cerino said the state granting agencies expect the town to spend grant funds it has already received before applying for more, so the town will push forward with raising the grade of the parking lot and beginning work on the shell of the interpretation center using funds currently on hand.

The council also approved permits for “A Dickens of a Christmas” and for the Downtown Chestertown Association’s Christmas parade.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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