Mid-Shore Health Futures: How Our Regional Hospitals Measure Up

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Susan Coe was in search of cottage cheese.

The chief experience officer and senior vice president at University of Maryland’s Shore Regional Health was looking in on a new patient at UM Medical Center at Easton. The patient, she learned, wanted her cottage cheese not in a small compartment on a tray but on a plate.

“She had her heart set on the platter,” Coe said.

The nurse immediately called food services to make the change but Coe said she decided to go get the plate of cottage cheese herself.

“It’s about respecting the patient,” she said.

That attention to patient satisfaction is part of a major change in hospitals, including at Shore Regional Health. Before 2007, hospitals largely measured their success by looking at “hard” data that evaluate patient safety and outcomes for specific procedures or events, such as heart attacks or infections. But in the past decade, the federal government began requiring that hospitals also measure how satisfied patients are with their care. Each hospital patient is given a 27-question survey that asks a range of questions, from how well the doctors and nurses communicated, to how noisy and clean the hospital was, to whether the patient would recommend the hospital to a friend.

And Shore Regional Health didn’t like what it was seeing, at least in one area.

Robert Carroll, regional director performance measurement & improvement, said that for the last eight quarters patient satisfaction ratings had been declining at the Easton and Dorchester facilities (considered one entity in ratings) and at its Chestertown hospital. The latest published data, from April 2015 to the end of March 2016, show that the Shore Regional Health hospitals score below average in patient satisfaction nationally and statewide. This is the despite the fact that the hospitals scored average or above average in most of its quality and safety ratings both statewide and nationally.

By contrast, the latest data show that Anne Arundel Medical Center in Annapolis and Peninsula Regional Medical Center in Salisbury rate better than average statewide and nationally in patient satisfaction. Peninsula also scored better than average in quality and patient safety ratings statewide and nationally. And Anne Arundel rated better than average nationally in quality and a safety, while it rated average statewide. In Maryland, consumers can go online to get information on safety, quality and satisfaction ratings at the Maryland Health Care Commission website (http://healthcarequality.mhcc.maryland.gov).

In December, Shore Regional Health launched a program called HEART to change patients’ perception of their care. And that, Coe said, required that caregivers consciously reconnect with what brought them into health care in the first place. “It’s about empathy, communication and connection,” Coe said. “It’s listening, watching, understanding.”

In the first phase of the program, 25 peer counsellors were trained. From January through March, those counsellors then led three-hour sessions among Shore Regional Health’s more than 2,000 employees. The focus, Coe said, was on helping caregivers see the hospital experience through the patient’s eyes.

“Every patient is reluctant to enter the hospital,” said Trena Williamson, regional director of communications and marketing at Shore Regional Health. “But for the medical staff, this is their normal.”

A new mother with a sick baby might see things differently than a veteran nurse with other, sicker patients, Williamson said. The HEART program helps staff “recalibrate” so as to see the situation from the patient’s perspective, she said.

Coe said patient satisfaction surveys are helpful but it is the comments that are most useful.

“The scores give us a number but the comments give us gifts of insight and direction,” she said. “We really look at comments– and we follow up.”

Keeping a patient-centered focus is “baked into the culture” at Anne Arundel Medical Center, where about 10 percent of hospital patients and 1 in 5 office visitors are from the Eastern Shore, said Maulik Joshi, executive vice president of integrated care delivery and chief operating officer.

Joshi said new hires are made based on their willingness not only to deliver the best medical care but also to make sure patients feel a personal connection.

“We own ‘I care’ behavior,” he said. “I—I sit down and talk with a patient at the beside; C—I connect with patients by smiling and saying hello; A—I answer quickly when someone has a question; R—I always tell everyone my role; and E—I always escort people.”

At Peninsula, the team approach and employees who live in the community and have worked many years at the hospital are key to both a high quality of care and patients’ happiness, said Sheri Matter, the hospital’s vice president of patient services.

Nurses and doctors together visit the patient to ensure everyone—including the patient—understands the plan of care, both in the hospital and when the patient goes home, she said.

And, she said, there is a “direct correlation” between patient satisfaction and “higher quality outcomes.”

“You have to listen,” she said.

Coe, at Shore Regional Health, would agree.

There, HEART has entered Phase 2: coaching and helping hospital staff put the program into practice. After that, “we’ll expand, go deeper,” she said.

In the meantime, Carroll said he is not worried about the ratings.

“We’re doing this because it’s a better way to do it,” he said. “The numbers will take care of themselves.”

The Regional Overview

If you have a heart attack, bicycle accident or need knee surgery, it’s useful to know how your hospital rates in quality of care, safety, and patient satisfaction.

Thanks to a growing trend in healthcare that looks at outcomes instead of just treatments, many government and private groups collect and disseminate data on hospitals’ performance. The information includes everything from specific comparisons about the likelihood of getting a hospital-acquired infection to how quiet the hospital corridors are at night. Hospitals are graded on these benchmarks and can be compared across a state or against a neighboring state.

In Maryland, which has a unique arrangement with the federal government for hospital reimbursements, consumers can go to a state website to see how their hospitals compare on many of these milestones.

The Maryland Health Care Commission, an independent agency, has an online consumer guide that can help answer many of your questions:

For example, you can use the website to look at a combined quality and safety score for every hospital in the state. Most hospitals in the state rank average on combined quality and safety compared with other Maryland hospitals, including the University of Maryland Shore Medical Centers at Easton, Chestertown and Dorchester. The only ones listed as better than average statewide are Peninsula Regional Medical Center in Salisbury, the Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center in Baltimore, and the University of Maryland St. Joseph Medical Center in Towson. Anne Arundel Medical Center, rated average statewide, is among 21 Maryland hospitals rated better than average compared with hospitals nationwide.

Much of the data come from the federal government, through the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. The federal site also has its own hospital comparison tools. You can also go directly to the centers’ site: Medicare.gov. The direct link to the hospital compare site is found here.

Using that site, you can find and compare hospitals across the nation and check them out against the ones in your own backyard.

With all the information that is collected, using the sites can be a little daunting. But there is a way to cut through the clutter to find what you’re looking for.

Start out with the overall ratings to see how the hospitals stack up

Zero in on areas that align with your procedure–for example, maternity care or orthopedic surgery.

Look at the patient satisfaction measures, which tell you things like how well the hospital staff communicates with patients about the discharge instructions, prescriptions, etc.

If you have to go to the emergency room, there’s also information on how quickly you’ll get attention from the medical staff. Easton, Chestertown and Peninsula hospitals were rated better than average in six measures for how quickly emergency room patients were handled compared with other hospitals in the state. Anne Arundel was below average in four of the six measures.

 

Spy Contributor Robert Tiernan was managing editor of Consumer Reports from 2006 to 2015. Spy Contributor Ridgely Ochs covered health care, personal health and medicine for more than 20 years at Newsday on Long Island. They both now live on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.

UM SRH Celebrates Nursing Excellence at Annual Awards Presentation

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University of Maryland Shore Regional Health’s Nurse Excellence Awards was held on Monday, May 8 at the Todd Performing Arts Center at Chesapeake College. The occasion was the premier event in the celebration of Nurses’ Week 2017, May 7-12.

Individual winners of UM SRH’s 2017 Nurse Excellence Awards are shown with Ruth Ann Jones, senior vice president, Patient Care Services and CNO (third from left): From left: Hope Honigsberg, Dawn Ruby, Taffie Wilson, Vernon Usilton and April Ewing.

Leading the event presentations, Ruth Ann Jones, UM Shore Regional Health’s senior vice president of Patient Care Services and chief nursing officer, noted that this year marked the sixth anniversary of the Nurse Excellence Awards and that the 2017 honorees were selected from a total of 48 individual nominations and 10 unit/department nominations, the greatest number submitted since the awards were established. “This awards program was established by nurses and for nurses as a way to recognize those who go above and beyond to always deliver exceptional care,” said Jones. “All nominees deserve our appreciation, as do their families and other supporters who help make it possible for them to go the extra mile in the care they provide.”

Ken Kozel, president and CEO, spoke glowingly of the pivotal role that Shore Regional Health’s 600 nurses play in achieving the organization’s vision of being the Region’s Leader in Patient Centered Health Care. “Our nursing team’s strong partnerships with our physicians and other members of the health care team enable us to continue to “raise the bar” on safety, quality and patient experience,” Kozel said. “I know that I speak for the entire leadership team when I express my gratitude for our nurses’ active engagement in developing new care models, recommending and adopting new technologies, creating new protocols for patient care, supporting the professional development of all team members, and adapting to the almost daily changes and challenges in the health care landscape.”

John Dillon, chairman of the Board of UM Shore Regional Health, cited “the outstanding reputation of Shore Regional Health’s nursing team – for their expertise, their dedication to our patients and family members, and their continued advancement of clinical care in all units and departments” as a constant in an era of rapid change in the health care system. “When a community member shares a story about an experience at one of our hospitals or outpatient facilities, that story almost always includes the nurse or nurses, often mentioned by name, who provided expert and compassionate care,” Dillon said.

UM Chester River Home Care won the Unit/Department Award for Excellence in Clinical Outcomes. Shown after the award presentation are UM CRHC staff members with Ruth Ann Jones (center); left of Jones, Rene Baker and Trish Focht; right of Jones, Katie Davis and Melissa Myers.

The 2017 Shore Regional Health Nurse Excellence Award winners are:

Outstanding Achievement in Care Delivery: Commitment to Others–Taffie Wilson, Regional Resuscitation Education Coordinator, Professional Nursing Practice

Outstanding Achievement in Leadership–Vernon Usilton, Clinical Nurse, Emergency Department, UM Shore Medical Center at Easton

Outstanding Achievement in Mentorship/Advocacy–Dawn Ruby, Clinical Nurse, 2 East, UM Shore Medical Center at Easton

Outstanding Achievement in Professional Nursing–Hope Honigsberg, Clinical Nurse, Ambulatory Surgery Center, UM Shore Medical Pavilion at Queenstown

Outstanding Achievement – Promising Professional–April Ewing, Clinical Nurse, Emergency Department, UM Shore Medical Center at Dorchester

Unit/Department Excellence in Clinical Outcomes–UM Chester River Home Care

About UM Shore Regional Health: 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 work with various community partners to fulfill the organization’s mission of Creating Healthier Communities Together.

UM CMG – Women’s Health Gynecologist Celebrates 400th Robotic Surgery

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University of Maryland Community Medical Group – Women’s Health gynecologist Dr. William Katz recently performed his 400th robotic surgery on the Eastern Shore.

The 400th procedure took place on May 3, 2017 at University of Maryland Shore Medical Center at Easton. Dr. Katz has been providing gynecologic and robotic surgery on the Eastern Shore for more than 16 years, and also has been in practice for a total of more than 25 years.

Dr. Katz uses robotic surgery to treat several common conditions of the female reproductive system including uterine fibroids, uterine prolapse, endometriosis and adenomyosis.  Robotic surgery offers many benefits to patients compared to open surgery: shorter hospitalization and faster recovery times, small incisions, and reduced pain and discomfort.

“Dr. Katz has been a great mentor in the Eastern Shore community for many years,” comments Michele Wilson, vice president of operations for UM CMG. “This is an incredible accomplishment that represents the experience and expertise he uses to best serve patients on the Eastern Shore.”

Dr. Katz is affiliated with multiple hospitals on the Eastern Shore, including University of Maryland Shore Medical Center at Chestertown and University of Maryland Shore Medical Center at Easton. He received his medical degree from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine.

Dr. Katz sees patients at 490 Cadmus Lane in Easton, Suite 106. Patients may make an appointment with Dr. Katz by calling 410-822-1221.

About the University of Maryland Community Medical Group

The University of Maryland Community Medical Group (UM CMG) is a multi-hospital, multi-specialty, community-based physician-led group, and part of the University of Maryland Medical System. With more than 300 primary care physicians, specialists, and advanced practice clinicians in more than 65 locations across the state, UM CMG offers patients a vast network of highly experienced providers, delivering care right in their neighborhood. For more information, visit www.umcmg.org.

Spy Profile: United Needs & Abilities and the Shore’s Developmentally Challenged Residents

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For an organization that serves over 400 of the most developmentally challenged residents on the Eastern Shore, including Kent and Talbot County, United Needs & Abilities continues to struggle with name recognition. That might be partly due to UNA’s name change in three years ago when it decided that the Epilepsy Association of the Eastern Shore was far to limited in defining their work, but it also may be the result of the stigma that comes when serving those with cerebral palsy, traumatic brain injury, autism, intellectual disabilities, epilepsy and other mental and physical impairments.

Board President Debbie Horner Palmer and Executive Director Michael Dyer want to start changing that mindset. Debbie, who suffers from Epilepsy herself, and who has played a number of leadership roles in the organization over the years, is determined to end this historical blind spot on the Shore by using her own story as a way to focus attention on the needs and aspirations of those with developmental disabilities. Michael, who has worked in management positions at Perdue Farms before taking on the day-to-day management of UNA, is also driven by the same goals as the organization sees new challenges in funding and outreach during a time of governmental austerity.

The Spy sat down with Debbie and Michael to talk about the mission of United Needs & Abilities and its unique role on the Shore at Bullitt House last week.

This video is approximately four minutes in length For more information please go here

Haven Ministries Seasonal Shelter Gets Designated Space

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Local artists Sue Stockman of St. Michaels, MD and her daughter Sequoia Chupek working on the mural which now graces the common room in Haven Ministries seasonal shelter at Kent Island United Methodist Church.

There were smiles all around when Haven Ministries held an open house for the public to see the newly- designated space for its seasonal shelter at Kent Island United Methodist Church in Stevensville. The shelter which previously occupied three classrooms in the church has received a new open space including a common room consisting of a living room, dining room and kitchen, as well as an adjacent room with bunk beds to accommodate men, women and children.

According to Don Lewis, chairperson of the church’s Board of Trustees, the church reconfigured its Sunday School rooms to accommodate the changes. He comments, “The new space is less work as we no longer have to transition the space each day from one thing to another – setting up cots at night and breaking them down in the mornings. The new space can remain set up for the shelter which is a win-win for both the church and the shelter.”

He adds, “This has been a very easy transition because Haven Ministries has been operating its shelter very smoothly in the church for 10 years.”

The church has also extended its hours to accommodate the shelter, which is open from 6 p.m. to 7:30 a.m. daily. Kent Island United Methodist Church is one of 15 churches who participate in supporting the shelter. Pastor David Bennett of Kent Island United Methodist Church welcomes the newly designated shelter space, stating, “For our congregation to have the shelter in our midst is strengthening the church’s role in the community. It has helped us to understand the responsibility we have to meet the needs of the community and to care for those in our community.”

He adds, “I hope the relationship we and other churches have had with the Haven Ministries will help the community understand that the people here just need a little bit of help. Homelessness is something our community can embrace – we don’t have to be fearful of it.”

According to Mia Cranford, Fundraising Coordinator for Haven Ministries, “The new shelter space has come alive. There is a positive energy now which translates into our mission to help people feel at home here and to work toward eventually having this feeling again in their own homes.”

Haven Ministries has focused on providing a very homey and comfortable space for its guests. Cots have been replaced with permanent bunk beds and small Sunday School chairs have been replaced with comfortable overstuffed couches and chairs, as well as café tables for eating. The furnishings and paint for the new space were funded by private donations to Haven Ministries.

Pictured L to R at Haven Ministries’ recent Open House are Krista Pettit, Executive Director of Haven Ministries; Sandi Wiscott, Case Manager for Haven Ministries; Caroline Aland, President of Haven Ministries Board of Directors; Haven Ministries Board Member Margie Reedy; and Haven Ministries Volunteer Coordinator Karen Bardwell.

Cranford adds, “The church is showing the love of Christ by welcoming shelter guests to the newly configured space. It has really been a community effort.  Local artist Sue Stockman of St. Michaels, MD, was commissioned to create a beautiful mural for the shelter’s common space.”

Stockman recalls Haven Ministries executive director Krista Pettit wanted a mural designed specifically for the space to go along with all new and special furnishings throughout. After Pettit received a grant from Richard Marks from Dock Street Foundation, the mural was created.  Stockman thought the mural was a great metaphor for the lives of homeless individuals – taking things broken and discarded to create something beautiful out of them, making everyone feel valuable and hopeful.”

Stockman adds, “The mural was also a very personal project for me, as my ex-husband died last year and was homeless at the time of his death.”

Following her ex-husband’s death, Stockman began work on the mural with her daughter, Sequoia Chupek in their studio in St. Michaels. She states, “I recognized how important it was for us to be working together during this time. It was just as therapeutic for Sequoia as it was for me as we co-created this piece of art.” She adds, “I have learned that if we are open, things are brought to us that make a real difference in our lives. This project has had a significant impact on our lives, as well as those receiving it at the shelter.  Working on the mural has helped us learn not to judge people who are homeless as they travel their own journeys.”

Haven Ministries offers a 24-hour a day program, with daytime services open to the public at the Resource Center and nighttime shelter services at the shelter, except for weekends when its Resource Center is closed. In addition to its seasonal shelter and Resource Center at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Centreville, the organization operates a Thrift Store, Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and a Food Pantry on the third Friday of every month. For further information or to become a Friend of Haven Ministries, visit haven-ministries.org or call 410-739-4363.

UM Shore Regional Health Publishes Community Benefits Report Online

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The 2016 Community Health Improvement Report is now published and available for viewing on the UM Shore Regional Health website at http://umshoreregional.org/news-and-events/news/2017/um-shore-regional-2016-community-health-improvement-report.

The report, which describes highlights of the community health improvement programs and conducted by UM SRH, includes articles on four initiatives: the Ask the Expert series; the inauguration of Shore Behavioral Health’s Bridge Clinic; the Stepping On program offered by the Balance Center in partnership with Maintaining Active Citizens (MAC); and guided support programs (classes, screenings, support groups, etc.) that support better health management.

According to Ken Kozel, UM SRH president and CEO, “The value of our community benefits programs and services, including charity care, exceeds $32 million, but the value is stronger than money. It is building healthier communities and our steadfast commitment to helping our patients and their families enjoy their best health and quality of life.”

Birthing Center Renovations in Progress

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Renovations have begun at the Birthing Center at University of Maryland Shore Regional Health, located at UM Shore Medical Center at Easton.

We're ExpectingAccording to Luann Satchell, manager of Women’s and Children’s Services at UM Shore Medical Center at Easton, the plan is to renovate two patient rooms at a time as to minimize disruption to Birthing Center patients, visitors and staff. The entire project, which will encompass the Center’s triage rooms, inpatient rooms, nurses station and hallways, will take approximately three to four months to complete.

“Our team members, many of whom have been with us since the Birthing Center opened more than twenty-one years ago, are excited for the opportunity to provide the same patient-centered care, in a modernized environment,” comments Satchell. “We believe that once completed, the renovated patient care areas will greatly enhance the overall patient experience, for mother and baby.”

While the Easton hospital has been delivering the region’s newest residents for several decades, the Birthing Center officially opened its doors in January, 1996 and since then has been offering expectant mothers the LDRP model of care — an approach allowing women and their families to experience labor, delivery, recovery and postpartum care in one suite for the duration of their stay. According to Satchell, in an LDRP environment, physicians, nurses and necessary equipment come to mother and baby to maximize comfort and the overall patient experience.

Local Ob-Gyn provider and Birthing Center medical director, Aisha Siddiqui, MD, FACOG, adds, “As affiliates of University of Maryland Medical System, our Ob-Gyn and midwifery providers are able to provide expectant mothers with leading-edge prenatal care, from conception to labor, delivery and postpartum care. Together with our stellar clinical team at the Birthing Center, we work hard to ensure that moms and babies receive quality care during their stay at UM Shore Medical Center at Easton. We couldn’t be more thrilled that after renovation, the Birthing Center environment will be just as superb as the care we’ve always provided there.”

To learn more about the Birthing Center at UM Shore Medical Center at Easton or the educational opportunities and support groups available to expectant and new mothers, visit umshoreregional.org/birthing. Information about Dr. Siddiqui’s practice, UM Community Medical Group- Women’s Health (Ob-Gyn) can be obtained by calling 410-820-4888.

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.

1st District Health Care Town Hall Meetings to be Held Without Rep. Andy Harris

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Constituents in Maryland’s 1st Congressional District are growing increasingly concerned about the potential repeal of the Affordable Care Act, and are looking to their elected officials to help address those concerns. Many calls, letters, and emails to Representative Andy Harris’s office have gone unanswered, or answered without addressing specific concerns. Constituent requests for Representative Harris to hold an in-person town hall meeting have not been successful.

Citizens for Health Care, a local grassroots organization, has heard these concerns and will host a series of citizens town hall meetings entitled “Patient Protection and the Affordable Care Act (ACA) Town Hall Meetings” intended to inform and educate constituents about the ACA and what it’s repeal could mean to them and their families and to consider methods to improve the ACA.

These town hall meetings will feature speakers from the professional healthcare community for an information session, as well as an open-panel question and answer session for public attendees. Representative Harris and other local elected officials have been invited to attend, in hopes of opening the lines of communication with their constituents and allowing for a discussion of what might come next. Hundreds of constituents have indicated they are interested in attending.

“At Citizens for Health Care, we understand that the subjects of health care and the ACA are not partisan issues: they are human issues,” said DeLane Lewis, one of the founders of Citizens for Health Care. “Congress is facing a dilemma at this moment, arguing whether to repeal or repair parts of the ACA. However, any decision they make will have a real, lasting impact on all U.S. citizens. It is our mission to keep the public informed and aware as to how these proposed changes could affect them.”

One of the major aims of the town hall meetings will be to answer the many questions that citizens currently have, including: What will be the impact on employer based plans? While all current and proposed plans, would continue to offer insurance for pre-existing conditions, under the ACA insurance companies are not allowed to charge higher premiums for pre-existing conditions. Will that be true under any new plan? In Maryland alone, almost 500,000 people are enrolled in health care coverage through the ACA. What will be the impact on the State of Maryland financially? On jobs?

Proposed plans that would eliminate current provisions of the ACA for federal financial assistance and Medicaid expansion are also of significant concern. According to research by the Urban Institute, eliminating individual and employer mandated, federal financial assistance and Medicaid expansion would increase the number of uninsured Americans by 22.5 million. The group estimates that an additional 7.3 million Americans would lose their insurance due to anear collapse of the non group insurance market.

Speakers at the citizens town hall plan to review and compare coverage options and statistics from pre-ACA, versus current options, as well as the various policy aspects of proposed changes or replacements. Health care professionals will also be available to discuss the implications for addiction treatment and mental health care in the community, as the ACA has greatly expanded coverage in both of these areas. Additionally, the financial costs of premiums and out-of-pocket expenses will be discussed to get a clear picture of the impact on the average healthcare consumer’s wallet.

The town hall meetings will be held as follows:

Tuesday, February 21, 6:30 pm, Harford Community College, Darlington Hall, Room 202, Bel Air
Thursday, February 23, 6 pm, Queen Anne’s County Library, 200 Library Circle, Stevensville
Friday, February 24, 6 pm, Salvation Army, 429 N Lake Drive, Salisbury
Thursday, March 2, 6 pm, St Paul’s UCC, 17 Bond Street, Westminster

Current guest speakers scheduled to appear include:

– Sue Ehlenberger, Maryland Health Connection-Seedco
– Mark Romaninsky, Maryland Health Connection-Seedco
– Jeananne Sciabarra, Consumer Health First
– Scot Hurley, Ashley Addiction Treatment
– Katia Callan, MSW, LCSW-C, Insight Wellness of Maryland
– Dr. James Burdick, author of Talking About Single Payer: Health Care Equality for America
– Dr. Margaret Flowers, Healthcare is a Human Right
– Kaylie Potter, Door to Healthcare

About Citizens for Health Care: Citizens for Health Care, located in Bel Air, Md., is a grassroots organization dedicated to providing education and information regarding the Affordable Care Act and proposed changes to the bill. For more information, please visithttps://www.facebook.com/CitizensforHealthCare/

 

UM Shore Health Moves Forward with Telehealth

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A telehealth grant totaling $75,000 from the Maryland Health Care Commission (MHCC) has been awarded to University of Maryland Shore Regional Health (UM SRH). The grant supports projects designed to expand access to needed services and specialists in palliative care and psychiatry for patients and their families in Kent and Queen Anne’s counties. It is a collaboration between UM SRH, University of Maryland Medical System eHealth, and the University of Maryland School of Medicine (UM SOM) Department of Epidemiology and Public Health.

Telehealth utilizes telecommunications and related technologies such as video-conferencing, image capturing and use of remote examination tools to support health care services, patient and professional health-related education, public health and health administration. The expanded telehealth capability aims to reduce hospital emergency department visits, inpatient admissions and readmissions; to enable the early provision of appropriate treatment; to improve access to care; and to provide cost savings to patients and providers.

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William Huffner, MD

“We are grateful to the MHCC for supporting this initiative that will significantly enhance patient care in medically underserved communities in rural Maryland,” said Robert A. Chrencik, MBA, CPA, president and CEO, University of Maryland Medical System. “This grant will allow us to use the latest in technology to expand the reach of our clinical services and increase access for patients.”

MHCC’s telehealth grant project was launched this month and continues through July 2018. Funds awarded through the grant will assist UM SRH in the purchase of varied telehealth technologies, training for UM SRH clinicians and other users on the use of telehealth equipment, and support for UM SOM research professionals involved in the project.

“The MHCC grant enables UM Shore Regional Health to apply state-of-the-art telehealth technology to close difficult gaps in rural healthcare,” says William Huffner, MD, chief medical officer and senior vice president, Medical Affairs for UM SRH.

One significant gap in rural health care is caused by the nationwide shortage of skilled health care providers in key medical specialties. Palliative care and psychiatry are two arenas in which the scarcity of providers is a serious issue, especially in rural areas.

“We are very fortunate to have highly qualified physicians in both palliative care and psychiatry serving our patients through University of Maryland Community Medical Group,” Dr. Huffner notes. “However, the size of our region – five counties covering more than 1,700 square miles – makes it impossible to offer ongoing, on-site care at all locations at all times. The MHCC grant funding supports the expansion of our telehealth capabilities at UM Shore Medical Center at Chestertown and the installation of telehealth technology at UM Shore Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, and will enable us to improve access to care for residents of Kent and Queen Anne’s counties.”

The grant funds, for which University of Maryland Shore Regional Health has agreed to provide a 2:1 financial match, also will support research on the most effective use of telehealth technology.

As Dr. Huffner explains, “Experience tells us that with any new technology, it is important to study how it is used in a way that will enable us to develop best practices. This grant will help us ensure that we make the best use of telehealth by addressing a number of questions, such as: What factors about a patient’s condition make the use of telehealth ideal or less than ideal? What are the boundaries of telehealth, in terms of patient tolerance and satisfaction? With regard to palliative care, one challenge we have sought to address is how to include not only patients but also key family members in palliative care discussions so that everyone understands the care options. Telehealth may prove very successful in achieving that goal by enabling the patient, the provider and family members, including those at varied remote locations, to participate in a three-way telehealth discussion.”

“Palliative care is a critical component of the care that we give to patients. The telehealth program is an innovative attempt to extend that care to more patients and families, over a wider area,” says University of Maryland School of Medicine Dean E. Albert Reece, MD, PhD, MBA, who is also the vice president for Medical Affairs, University of Maryland, and the John Z. and Akiko K. Bowers Distinguished Professor. “We are fortunate to have this opportunity to further collaborate with our partners across the state to help improve the lives of underserved patients and their families.”