Family Support Groups Now Available in Queen Anne’s & Kent Counties

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National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) sponsors Family Support Groups

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) has recently started Family Support Groups in Queen Anne’s and Kent Counties.  These groups are peer-led groups for family members, caregivers, and loved ones of individuals living with mental illness. Support group members gain insight from the challenges and successes of other group members facing similar circumstances.

Family members or friends of someone with mental illness find from the support group that they are not alone and that they can find the support they need from the group.  The family support group is unique because it follows a structured model, ensuring everyone the opportunity to be heard and to get information and the support that they need. The support groups are free, confidential, and led by people who have loved ones with mental illness.

By sharing your experiences to a group in a safe and confidential setting, you gain hope and develop supportive relationships.  The group encourages empathy, productive discussion and a sense of community.  Members benefit through others’ experiences, discover inner strengths, and learn how to identify and use local resources.

One group member said, “The most beneficial thing for me to learn was that I am not alone.  I found the NAMI Family Support Group at the time I really needed it!”

NAMI offers its Family Support Program the first and third Monday of the month in Centreville and the first and third Tuesday of the month in Chestertown from 7 pm – 8:30 pm.  For more information contact:  443-480-0565 or email to namikentandqueenannes@gmail.com

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Shore Regional Health Recognizes Nurse Practitioners

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Nurse practitioners serving UM Shore Regional Health: front row, l. to r., Michell Jordan, Brittany Cutler, Penny Boyle, Wendy Towers and Clare Ross; back row, l. to r.,  Brittany Krautheim, Patricia Lancaster, Lisa Jeffers, Diana Gail Shorter, Dale Jafari and Sharon Stagg. Not shown are Rahel Alemu, Anna Antwi, Jill Burgholzer, Ellen Spurry Christ, Jennifer Dyott, Karen Fisher, Leslie Fox, Lisa Hall, Mary Horseman, Marcia Reynolds, Mickee Roser, Shirley Seward, Doris Allen Tate and Michelle Williams.

National Nurse Practitioner Week celebrates more than 50 years of practice by nurse practitioners (NPs). NPs are expert clinicians with advanced education and clinical experience who provide primary, acute and specialty health care using a high-quality, cost-effective, patient-centered approach. They must have a master’s degree in order to practice, and many have doctoral degrees, such as a Doctorate in Nursing Practice.They are licensed in all 50 states to order, perform and interpret diagnostic tests as well as diagnosis and treat acute and chronic conditions.

According to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners, this distinguished group of healthcare professionals number approximately 234,000. Research has shown that patients whose primary care providers are NPs have fewer emergency room visits and shorter hospital stays, resulting in lower out-of-pocket cost.

At present, 22 NPs practice within University of Maryland Community Medical Group serving Shore Regional Health. They provide care in many specialties, including breast health, behavioral health, diabetes and endocrinology, family medicine, gastroenterology, neurology, neurosurgery, oncology/pulmonology, pain management, palliative care, pediatrics, women’s health and wound care.

“We take a holistic and collaborative approach to patient care that involves listening to our patients and their families, then creating an individualized medical treatment plan to optimize healing, wellness and function while considering the unique needs of each patient,” says Lisa Jeffers of UM CMG Wound Care.

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CUTLINE:
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As part of the University of Maryland Medical System (UMMS), University of Maryland Shore Regional Health is the principal provider of comprehensive health care services for more than 170,000 residents of Caroline, Dorchester, Kent, Queen Anne’s and Talbot counties on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. UM Shore Regional Health’s team of more than 2,500 employees, medical staff, board members and volunteers works with various community partners to fulfill the organization’s mission of Creating Healthier Communities Together.

Maryland Touts new Generic Drug Price-Gouging Law

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Following Maryland’s recent efforts as the first state to enact a law that protects consumers from generic prescription drug price-gouging, local leaders and health care advocates on Tuesday highlighted the benefits of the legislation and urged Marylanders to share their personal stories about drug affordability.

The law went into effect Oct. 1 and restricts manufacturers of generic and off-patent prescription drugs from price gouging, or the “excessive and not justified” increase in the cost of a drug, according to a state analysis.

In July, the Association for Accessible Medicines, the trade association that represents America’s manufacturers of generic and biosimilar medicines, filed a lawsuit against Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh and Dennis Schrader, secretary of the Maryland Department of Health, charging that the law was unconstitutional. The association said in July that the law was only protecting high-priced brand name drug companies and punishing lower cost generic alternatives.

In September, a judge rejected portions of the association’s argument and allowed the law to take effect. The association in a statement has said it plans to appeal.

“As a caregiver, prescription drugs are a big part of my life,” said Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker in a press release. Baker on Tuesday explained how the law has personally affected him and his family. His wife was diagnosed with early onset dementia and the cost of her medication had shot up from $100 during his earlier pharmacy visits to $300 in recent visits.
“You think about the fact that I have some of the best insurance as county executive. … I have resources, but what happens to somebody that comes in and can’t afford to pay $300?” Baker said.

Generic medications account for 88 percent of drugs dispensed nationally, and 22 percent of generics studied by the Government Accountability Office experienced an “extraordinary price increase” of 100 percent or greater between 2010 and 2015, according to the office of the Maryland Attorney General.

“I take care of patients, not laws,” Dr. Stephen Rockower, past president of MedChi said Tuesday. “My job is to make sure that patients get better, which means patients taking their medicine, and I can’t do my job when they can’t afford their medicine.”

EpiPens and Naloxone are medications that officials have raised concerns about recently — citing prices that rose sharply from October 2013 to April 2014. Prices of EpiPens had a 508 percent increase in price. Naloxone, a medication used to treat opioid overdose — an especially important medication amid the nation’s opioid crisis — increased in price by 553 percent, according to the office of the Maryland Attorney General.

“It’s outrageous that companies can jack up prices like this,” Maryland Citizens’ Health Initiative President Vincent DeMarco told the University of Maryland’s Capital News Service. “This law is a life-saver and we’re confident that the attorney general will continue to succeed in court with this legislation.”

Maryland joined 44 other states on Tuesday in an antitrust investigation of the generic drug industry. They asked a federal court for permission to file a new complaint to increase the number of generic drug manufacturer defendants from six to 16, and drugs at issue from two to 15.

“We have to go after it,” said Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh told Capital News Service. “We’ll see the drug companies collapse and take it to trial.”

Supporters of the legislation urged consumers on Tuesday to submit their stories to www.healthcareforall.com/hearmystory, a new webpage created for the public to share how escalating drug prices have hurt them or their families.

“As legislators, one of the ways we were able to fight was to hear the stories of individuals and repeat them in court by talking to people who could not afford the medicine that they needed,” said state Delegate Ariana Kelly (D-Montgomery). “We need your help to make sure that the legislation works.”

By Georgia Slater

Md. Medical society asks hospitals to review opioid doses

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The Maryland State Medical Society is taking action amidst the nation’s opioid crisis and urging hospitals and physicians in the state to decrease the automated controlled-substance standing orders and to prescribe a minimum amount of opioids necessary.

This epidemic is gathering attention in Maryland — Gov. Larry Hogan declared a state of emergency March 1 and committed an additional $50 million over five years to help with prevention.

The number of deaths due to prescription opioids decreased slightly — from 218 to 211— in the first half of this year over the same time period last year, Jan 1. To June 30, according to state health department data released Tuesday.

But the increase in all opioid-related deaths recent years has been sharp: From 2014 to 2017, the number of opioid-related deaths reported in Maryland between Jan. 1 and March 31 more than doubled — taking the death toll up to 473 from 226 three years earlier, according to state health department data.

In response to this crisis, the society, known as MedChi, created an Opioid Task Force to “educate Maryland physicians on safe opioid prescribing practices, how to recognize risk factors, and when to recommend alternative, scientifically-based evidence-based non-opioid treatments,” according to a release earlier this month.

Over the last decade and a half, the amount of opioids prescribed in the United States has risen sharply.

The amount of opioids prescribed per person more than tripled from 1999 to 2015, when the volume of prescriptions reached enough for every American to be medicated for three weeks straight, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The problem may have began in the 1990s when physicians received messages saying they were undertreating pain, said MedChi President Dr. Gary Pushkin.

The “inadequate treatment of pain” was the subject of many policy efforts in the 1990s and among these were the “increased use of opioids for acute pain and the use of long-term opioid therapy for patients with chronic pain,” according to a 2016 paper in the
American Journal of Law and Medicine.

“Doctors do have a role in the whole opioid problem, but I don’t think we are the bad guys that we are painted out to be … a majority of doctors want to do the right thing,” added Pushkin.

Now with the ongoing epidemic and continual increase in opioid prescriptions, MedChi is seeking out these smaller changes with the hopes of a larger impact.

The group is asking that physicians and hospitals review the automated controlled substance “standing orders” that are in the electronic health record systems.

These systems may be creating these standing orders automatically as the recommended dosages — even when lower dosages would be sufficient, Pushkin said.

With this initiative, MedChi is asking that if opioids are being prescribed, hospitals and physicians do not solely rely on auto-populated dosages, and instead they decide which dosage, preferably one that is more minimal, is actually necessary for the pain being treated, explained MedChi CEO Gene Ransom.

Letters have been sent to Maryland hospitals and physicians, according to Pushkin, suggesting that either, “(1) the physicians’ standing orders be reduced to the minimum dosage and quantities necessary or (2) that practices remove any automated dosage and quantity in the …ordering system.”

Ransom said MedChi has received positive responses from hospitals and physicians, and some have begun looking into enacting these changes. Many of them were appreciative that more is being done to try and solve this opioid problem, he added.

“We are very much in line with MedChi’s efforts to reduce standing orders and we know that our efforts can’t just stop there. There are many more measures we have to take on a wider basis for this issue,” Nicole Stallings, Maryland Hospital Association vice president of policy and data analytics told Capital News Service.

The association has been trying to tackle the epidemic for years — in 2015 the group created a set of opioid prescribing guidelines, which included altering standard orders, and 100 percent of Maryland hospital emergency departments signed on to using these guidelines, Stallings added.

Prescribing opioids for too many days and at too high a dose can create a problem, according to the CDC.

Even at low doses, taking an opioid for more than three months can increase the risk of addiction by 15 times, the CDC reported.

A solution may be prescribing for fewer days; for acute pain, prescriptions for three days or fewer is often enough, and more than seven days is rarely needed, according to the CDC.

“This small adjustment could help prevent patients from receiving a higher dosage or quantity than necessary, and may prevent diversion (giving drugs to other people) or other problems,” said Pushkin.

Additionally, many of these opioid prescriptions go unused and are improperly stored in the home, according to a 2017 Johns Hopkins Medicine study.

Dr. Mark Bick, associate professor of anesthesiology and critical care at Hopkins, spearheaded the study and found that 67 to 92 percent of a total of 810 patients did not use their entire opioid prescription, but still held onto them, increasing the risk of misuse.

“Our task force continues to work on solutions to this problem and we are going to keep working on it and are open to more ideas to how this can work better. It’s a common sense solution….If we can reduce just a small number (of deaths) it’s worth it,” said Ransom.

By Georgia Slater
Capital News Service

November Events to Promote Diabetes Awareness

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Recent public health statistics indicate that diabetes rates for Maryland’s Eastern Shore counties are approaching — and in some cases, exceeding — 10 percent. According to Trish Rosenberry, regional director, UM Shore Regional Health Specialty Clinics, this high prevalence is made more dangerous due to lack of public awareness of the disease and its potential consequences. “More than 25 percent of people who have diabetes are undiagnosed and asymptomatic, and therefore are unaware that they have the disease and may be experiencing damage to their heart, eyes, kidneys, and limbs,” Rosenberry says.

The prevalence of diabetes and the potential damage it poses to overall health are highlighted each November through the American Diabetes Association’s national campaign for Diabetes Awareness. In observance of Diabetes Month this year, health care providers in Kent County have planned three events – one in Worton and two in Chestertown – to help those coping with with diabetes and/or prediabetes gain a better understanding of the disease and strategies to manage it for their best possible health.

On Saturday, November 4, the Mt. Olive AME Church in Worton is hosting a Diabetes Health Fair, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. This event, which includes a free luncheon and gifts for attendees, will provide expert help regarding diet, nutrition, exercise/wellness, natural foods and nutrition products. “Representatives from UM Center for Diabetes and Endocrinology, Kent Athletic Center, Chestertown Natural Foods, and Nuts and Seeds, among others will be there, giving presentations and answering questions from those in attendance,” says Chrissy Nelson, diabetes educator.

Also free and open to the public is a seminar, “You Can Eat and Still Lose Weight,” set for Wednesday, November 8, 1:30 to 2:30 p.m., in UM Shore Medical Center at Chestertown’s Education Center. Local dietitians Mary King and Cheyrle Borneman will offer tips on how to achieve your desired weight without severe dieting.

“Food Shopping for Health,” a grocery store tour set for Thursday, November 9, 1 to 3 p.m. at Redner’s Market in Chestertown, is designed to show how anyone with diabetes or pre-diabetes can shop and plan for meals that will promote optimal health. “A diabetes diagnosis can seem overwhelming, but there are shopping strategies to help you plan menus and fill up your cart with the right foods to maintain your best health,” says Mary King, nutrition services coordinator, UM Shore Medical Center at Chestertown, who leads the tour. “This tour helps people learn how to ‘shop smart’ and select foods that will help them avoid complications.” Persons interested in participating in the tour should RSVP by calling 410-778-3300, ext. 2295.

Ongoing diabetes support and education services at UM Shore Medical Center in Chestertown include: the diabetes support group, which meets the first Tuesday of every month, 6:30 p.m.; and Diabetes Self-Management, a three-class (nine hour) program for persons who are newly diagnosed or need help in controlling their disease. A doctor’s referral and advance registration is required. Physician and advance practice provider care is offered by appointment in Chestertown on Wednesdays, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

For more information or to make an appointment, contact 410-822-1000, ext.5757.

Shore Health: Maryland to Offer Online Shopping Tool for Medical Procedures

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The Maryland Health Care Commission, the state’s independent regulatory agency, is unveiling a website on which people scheduling a hip replacement, knee replacement, hysterectomy or vaginal delivery can see price differences among different providers for the same procedure.

The site is launching amid rising health-care costs and as some consumers turn to insurance plans with high deductibles.

The state site is meant to give consumers a tool to compare prices and quality on four common medical procedures at hospitals around the state that patients otherwise would have difficulty finding on their own.

Read the full story in the Washington Post here

Winter is Coming: Got Your Flu Shot?

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by Peter Heck and Jane Jewell

Have you had your flu shot yet?

The beginning of flu season is rapidly approaching, and now’s the time to get this year’s flu shot. I got mine last Thursday at the Kent County Health Department at 125 South Lynchburg Street in Chestertown. It was fast, about a five-minute wait with only one person ahead of me. There was only virtually no hassle, just one quick form to fill out.  Bring your insurance or Medicare/Medicaid cards and the cost is covered with no co-pay, in most cases.  So it’s basically free and the vaccine gives me a good chance of getting through the upcoming flu season without any of the all-too-familiar symptoms of the virus.

But does a flu shot really help?  Many people say that they got the shot one year but still got the flu. Yes, that happens.  But the Center for Disease Control (CDC) does a study each year to determine how effective that year’s flu vaccine was and how it compares to previous years.  What they have found is that, while it varies from year to year, vaccination reduces the chance of catching the flu by between 40% and 60%.  Thus there’s no guarantee that you won’t get the flu but you have a much better chance of resisting it than those who don’t get the flu shot.  For every one hundred unprotected persons who get the flu, only 40-60 vaccinated persons come down with it.  So with the vaccine, you have a decent chance of avoiding the flu.  Without it, you may be sniffling and missing work for one to two weeks – or more.  So, yes, the flu shot helps.

The flu hits suddenly, no gradual buildup of symptoms like the common cold often has. You don’t wonder if you might be coming down with something; you know when it hits.  Fortunately, the severe symptoms usually last no more than 2-3 days.  However, other symptoms such an intermittent low fever, cough, weakness, and fatigue may last a week or more. Sometimes, there is a lingering dry cough that lasts or returns again and again over the course of a few months.  Catching the flu can end up with you not feeling up to par for the whole winter. So avoiding the flu is really a good thing!  And the flu shot improves your chances.

Peter Heck, your intrepid Spy reporter, receives his lollipop from  Rita Kulley, RN, program manage of the Flu Clinic, after she gave him his flu shot. (As proof, note the band-aid on upper arm.) 

The Kent County Health Department is holding walk-in flu clinics every Thursday from 9 a.m. to noon through the end of December.  No appointments necessary. Tell ’em the Spy sent you.

Regular flu shots cost $30; while high-dosage shots for seniors are $50. But in most cases, it’s free, no money changes hands. Medicare and Medicaid pick up the entire cost while most insurance companies pay all or most of the cost. The clinic accepts Medicare and MCOs for payment, as well as cash, checks and credit cards.  MCOs are the Managed Care Organizations that provide services to Medicaid recipients.

The strains of flu virus in circulation change each season, so last year’s inoculation is unlikely to be effective against this year’s bugs, which the current vaccine is tailored to protect you from. October and early November are the best times to get your vaccination. That way your immune system can develop antibodies before the flu season kicks in around Thanksgiving. Good idea to develop immunity before those big family gatherings followed by the frenetic shopping and festive parties of December. There’s no better time to visit a qualified health care provider and get your shots updated than now.

In addition to the Health Department, flu shots are available at many local pharmacies. No appointments are needed, just walk-in.  Usually there is no or very little wait.

Rite Aid Pharmacy in Chestertown offers the shots Mon-Fri from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m, Sat 9 to 6, Sun 10 to 9.

Walgreen’s Pharmacy in Chestertown offers the shots from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. weekdays, 8 to 6 Saturdays and 10 to 6 Sundays.

Edwards Pharmacy at 102 S. Commerce St. near the Centreville courthouse, offers the shots from 8 a.m to 6 p.m. weekdays, 8 to 2 Saturdays.

Edwards has just opened a pharmacy in Chestertown but they are not yet geared up to offer flu shots. Next year, they said, Edwards Pharmacy Chestertown will have flu vaccines.

Prices tend to be similar to the Health Department; most insurance plans pick up the entire cost. For those without insurance, the standard shot is around $30, and $50 to $60 for the high-dose senior shot. Bring your insurance cards when you go for the shot.

Rite aid Pharmacy in Kent Plaza shopping center in Chestertown at the intersection of Washington Ave. (Rt 213) and Morgnec Rd. (Rt. 291) Flu shots available M-F from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sat 10:00 am-6:00 pm. Sun.

Walgreen’s Pharmacy in Chestertown at the corner of Washington Ave. (Rt 213) and Morgnec Rd. (Rt. 291)

It’s also possible your family doctor can give you the inoculation. But the point is to get it. It takes about two weeks after the injection for the vaccine to become fully effective, so getting your shot before the flu season begins is important.

In fact, everyone older than six months should get a shot, unless they have a life-threatening allergy to the vaccine or one of its ingredients. A flu shot doesn’t just protect you — it also helps protect the community as a whole, a phenomenon called herd immunity. The more people who have immunity to this year’s virus, the less likely it is that a dangerous pandemic can get a foothold.

And make no mistake — flu can be a killer, especially to those in vulnerable segments of the population. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, this group includes children under 5 years and adults over 50 years old; anyone with chronic pulmonary or cardiovascular disorders; pregnant women; residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities; American Indians; and anyone who is extremely obese. Family members and caregivers of those in the vulnerable categories should also be sure to get immunized so they don’t expose someone at high risk for complications to the disease.

Antiviral drugs such as Tamiflu are helpful in mitigating flu symptoms once a patient is infected with the virus, but they are not a substitute for the vaccination. Nor do they prevent the infected person from spreading the virus to others around them.

Kent County Health Department at 125 South Lynchburg Street in Chestertown.  Walk-in flu shot clinic on Thursday mornings 9-noon.

The Kent County Health Department also has numerous other services for individuals.  They have informational pamphlets in both English and Spanish on almost every health issue.

Flu clinic forms are available at the Health Department website or at the clinic. Call 410-778-1350 ext. 3 for more information.

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Pink Polar Bear Golf Tourney Raises $2,550 for the Women’s Center

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Pink Polar Bear Tournament participants paused for a group photo after coming in from the links at Chestertown Yacht and Country Club.

The sixth annual Pink Polar Bear Golf Tournament, held August 6 at the Chester River Yacht & Country Club, raised $2,550 to benefit patient care in the Eleanor & Ethel Leh Women’s Center at UM Shore Medical Center at Chestertown.

According to tournament co-chair Gwinn Derricott, who also is a hospital volunteer, 66 members and guests of the club, which is located just outside Chestertown, participated in this year’s event. “Everyone says that this is the most fun tournament they play in because of the format and the camaraderie,” Derricott said. “We’ve come a long way from a group of nine and 18-hole lady golfers and we’re looking forward to many more tournaments.”

Jane Hukill, tournament co-chair and also a hospital volunteer said, “We call it the Pink Polar Bear tournament because early on, it was explained to us that finding breast cancer can be like trying to find a polar bear in a blizzard.  When we saw the capabilities of the tomosynthesis in mammography, we had to do our part to support the continued availability of this technology in Chestertown.”

Kelly Bottomley, regional manager, Imaging, for UM Shore Regional Health, said that mammography is the medical “gold standard” to identify breast cancer. The Eleanor & Ethel Leh Women’s Center, which opened in October 2013, was the first facility on the Delmarva Peninsula to offer 3-D digital mammography with tomosynthesis, which can identify breast cancer at the earliest possible stage; in 2016, the Center performed 2,643 mammograms.

“On behalf of both the staff of the Leh Women’s Center and the patients who come to us for treatment, I am humbled to thank everyone who helped make the Pink Polar Bear tournament such a great success this year as in the past – in fact, their support grows larger every year. Their generosity and commitment is making a positive difference for women’s health here in Kent County and beyond, and we are proud to have them as part of our family of care,” Bottomley stated.

The Leh Center also offers bone density testing. A plastic surgeon is on site at the Center two days a week for breast surgery, reconstruction, consultation and other services.

Save Our Hospital Group Responds to Workgroup Report

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Leaders of the Save Our Hospital group and other concerned citizens have sent a letter about recommendations of the Maryland Rural Health Workgroup’s in the draft report on the future of the Chestertown hospital. The letter cites a number of potential problems with the report, especially as its recommendations would affect Kent County residents. Signers include a number of doctors, the mayor of Chestertown and two town council members, the president of Washington College, the director of Heron Point and board members of the hospital foundation along with other business and community leaders.

The hospital,  a branch of University of Maryland Medical System, has been the focus of community concerns since UMMS acquired it in 2007. While the UM Shore Regional Health board, the immediate parent facility, has committed to keeping the hospital open through 2022, its future beyond that date remains uncertain, Many community members interpret recent staff cuts and other reductions in services as preliminaries to downsizing the facility with an eye to closing it shortly after 2022.

The Rural Health Workgroup is in the final stages of writing its report, which the legislators will then turn into law.  The final report will be presented at the last full workgroup meeting, Sept. 28 in Annapolis.

Here is the Save Our Hospital letter as submitted.

To:        Members of the Rural Health Workgroup and staff of the Maryland Health Care Commission

From: Leadership, Save Our Hospital physicians and citizens group

Date:    August 10, 2017

Re:        Concerns about the draft recommendations  

Dear Workgroup Members and Staff:

As members of the physician-led Kent and northern Queen Anne’s community volunteer group Save Our Hospital, we write to share our reaction to the draft recommendations discussed at the July 25 meeting of the Rural Health Workgroup.

We are grateful to the Health Care Commission staff and the Workgroup members, especially chairs Deborah Mizeur and Joseph Ciatola, for the time and thought they have dedicated to the process of rethinking and redesigning a health-care delivery plan that works for rural communities like ours.

We wholeheartedly endorse the majority of the recommendations, which concern greater coordination and clustering of health-related services, providing in-home or close-to-home care for patients, incentives for attracting and retaining physicians and other health-care professionals, reducing re-admission rates, avoiding unnecessary visits to emergency rooms, and exploiting the power of telemedicine and other innovations to increase timely access to the highest quality diagnostic and treatment expertise.

But we have serious concerns.

Since our original 2015 meetings (which sparked Maryland’s General Assembly and the State Secretary of Health and Mental Hygiene to create your Workgroup), the Save the Hospital citizens group has continued to focus on the viability and vitality of the acute care hospital in Chestertown, now part of University of Maryland Medical System’s Shore Regional Health System. Most of our concerns for the Workgroup recommendations therefore revolve around the concept of the special Rural Community Hospital. That designation is outlined on page 11 of the draft recommendations under item 10: “Create a special hospital designation for Rural Communities.”

While we applaud the creation of a new category of hospital if it will help ensure the continued financial success of our county’s second largest employer, we have specific concerns about the defining characteristics and longevity outlined in the draft recommendations:

Item 10. b. states that the hospital must be “located 35 miles or more from the nearest general acute care hospital.” While we understand that the mileage figure comes from the federal designation for a Critical Access Hospital, it is not a safe measure for rural Maryland communities such as Kent County.  The current hospital in Chestertown is approximately 34 miles from the site of the proposed Easton medical center on Route 50 near the Easton Airport. Thousands of residents, tourists, beach-goers, boaters, students, campers and staffers from marinas, summer camps and environmental education programs in remote parts of Kent County, notably Rock Hall, Betterton, Still Pond Neck and Galena, are 45 to 50 miles or more from the Easton site.

To use the 35-mile figure would be cruel, cynical and dangerous.

We believe a safer criterion would be one based not on mileage but on travel time. That would allow for considerations such as beach traffic on Route 50 and other seasonal issues that lengthen the trip to another hospital.

Item 10. f.  states, “The program would last for five years and would be renewable by agreement of HSCRC and the hospital.” By leaving the renewal option solely up to the hospital board and executives, this clause threatens to put the Chestertown hospital (and any designated Rural Community hospital) right back into the untenable situation that first sparked community outrage and led to the creation of the Rural Health Workgroup in the first place.

A hospital is too important to the health, economy and social wellbeing of a community to be redefined and converted into a lesser facility without vigorous community and legislative debate and input.  The State must require a review process that ensures public discussion and input from the affected hospital’s medical staff and guarantees that the hospital decision makers are hearing and acting on community and physician concerns.  The procedure for altering a Rural Community Hospital’s status should be similar in scope and as rigorous as Maryland’s existing Certificate of Need process for building or significantly altering health-care facilities.

Need for a local hospital board. Another concern is the continued lack of a truly local board to serve as a liaison, watchdog and advocate for our hospital. While the Workgroup’s deliberations and recommendations have invested in the concept of regional and system-wide collaboratives and oversight, we strongly endorse the idea of a community-based board for any rural community hospital or health complex.

Yes, there is a board of directors for the regional health system (in our case, UMMS Shore Regional Health System), but board members from smaller communities will never have a decisive voice on a regional board.  It is, after all, the almost total disregard for our community’s interests and the diminished status of our hospital by the Easton-based regional board that led us to appeal to the General Assembly for respect and attention. Residents will always be more closely connected to, loyal to, and more likely to donate to, a hospital with its own board drawn entirely from neighbors, friends and civic leaders they know and trust.

(Such a local board would give voice to community concerns about hospital policies such as Shore Regional Health’s “white paper” proposal to eliminate the ICU unit and to reduce inpatient beds based on projected rather than recent  patient data.)

“Put some teeth in it.” Given the severity of the physician shortage in rural areas and the pressure and cost of outspending competitors to attract top medical staff, our group suggests building significant incentives and disincentives into any recommendations that will encourage University of Maryland Medical School to develop more family physicians and general practitioners who will train and eventually practice in Kent County and other rural communities. This was a promise—broken immediately and never fulfilled—that UMMS made nine years ago when it was a suitor seeking ownership of the hospital in Chestertown.

Thank you for giving our concerns your serious consideration. The Kent and northern Queen Anne’s community will remain engaged. We are eager to support Senators Middleton and Hershey and Delegates Jacobs, Ghrist and Arentz as they shepherd the Workgroup report through the halls of the General Assembly and into law.  We know that, despite the long road that brought us to this point, we still have a long way to go to ensure that our future includes a robust hospital at the center of a healthy, equitable, prosperous community.

Sincerely,

Save the Hospital Leadership

Dr. Jerry O’Connor

Dr. Wayne Benjamin

Dr. Michael Peimer

Dr. Ona Kareiva

Dr. Susan Ross

Margie Elsberg, SOH Coordinator, past president of Chester River Health Foundation

Kurt Landgraf, President of Washington College

Chris Cerino, Mayor, Town of Chestertown

Garrett Falcone, executive director, Heron Point CCRC

Glenn Wilson, President and CEO of Chesapeake Bank & Trust, President of United Way     of Kent County

Kay MacIntosh, economic development coordinator, Town of Chestertown

And the following citizens in attendance at the August 10 meeting:

(professional or community affiliations provided as known)

Rev. Ellsworth Tolliver, community leader

Marty Stetson, Chestertown Town Council

Linda Kuiper, Chestertown Town Council

Fred Harmon, representing the residents of Heron Point

Leon Irish

Bill Mohan

Shelby Strudwick

Jim Twohy

Charles Lerner, board member, Chester River Health Foundation

Sandra Bjork, board member, Chester River Health Foundation

David Foster, former Chester River Riverkeeper

Nancy Carter

Zane Carter

Beryl Kemp

Michael McDonnell

Stuart Elsberg, past president, For All Seasons