The effort to “Save the Hospital” in Chestertown—to ensure that there will be inpatient care here long beyond 2022—is on a fast-moving train that appears increasingly headed for success.
There are debates on the tracks ahead, but with the leadership of our doctors and our General Assembly delegation, and with the support of Washington College, Dixon Valve, Chestertown’s Mayor and Town Council, and the citizens of Kent and northern Queen Anne’s counties, we have apparently won the battle to keep our hospital whole.
In a reversal of their stance in early 2016, the Shore Regional Health System board and University of Maryland Medical System now favor maintaining inpatient services at our hospital in Chestertown indefinitely. They’ve said so in writing, in a “White Paper” written in response to a request by Deborah Mizeur and Dr. Joseph Ciotola, co-chairs of the Rural Healthcare Delivery Plan Workgroup.
The White Paper hasn’t been made public, but Shore Health President and CEO Ken Kozel described it to me in detail. The White Paper isn’t only about Chestertown’s hospital. It lists facilities that Shore Health believes should be maintained in each of the five Mid-Shore counties, and calls for state support to ensure an economically sustainable system. The Workgroup will consider the White Paper and other recommendations as it writes the Rural Healthcare Delivery Plan that must be finalized by October and presented to the General Assembly.
The White Paper, with a cover letter signed by Mr. Kozel and UMMS President and CEO Bob Chrencik, has been delivered to Ms. Mizeur and Dr. Ciotola, and to Sen. Thomas “Mac” Middleton, Chair of the Senate Finance Committee (which handles healthcare legislation) and Dennis Schaffer, Secretary of Health and Mental Hygiene. In the coming weeks, Mr. Kozel will discuss the document with District 36 and 37 legislators, including Sen. Steve Hershey, and delegates Jay Jacobs, Steve Arentz, and Jeff Ghrist. All are engaged and appear headed in the same direction, though there are issues to be resolved.
The White Paper recommends only 15 inpatient beds in Chestertown after 2022, a drop in capacity that concerns our doctors. Though Mr. Kozel says Shore could maintain up to 25 beds, our doctors say it’s already too common for inpatients to stay in the ER for up to 48 hours when there are no available beds. Inpatients belong in nursing units, the doctors say; reducing the bed count will exacerbate the situation.
Our doctors are also concerned that the White Paper recommends closing Chestertown’s Intensive Care Unit after 2022. The ICU, they say, is a hospital’s safety net when med-surg (medical and surgical nursing floor) patients take a turn for the worse.
Save the Hospital will continue to fight for quality care, but we are heartened that our hospital’s future is brighter than it was a year ago. We appreciate the willingness of Shore Health’s leadership to change course in response to the community’s needs.
In the fall, after the Workgroup has finalized its plan, attention will shift to Annapolis and to Sen. Middleton’s Finance Committee. The senator told me he’s “very enthusiastic” about Shore Health’s White Paper and though designing and passing needed legislation “won’t be easy,” he is committed to producing a robust healthcare system for the Mid-Shore’s five counties.
A farmer from Charles County, “Mac” Middleton said he remembers when his community couldn’t afford a hospital, when his mother had to go to Washington to have a baby. “My dad told me,” he said, “I should never forget my roots.”
Volunteer Communications Coordinator for “Save the Hospital”
Board member, Chester River Health Foundation