Rotary Award to “Save Our Hospital”

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Dr. Jerry O’Connor receives the first annual Dr. Paul Titsworth Service Award from Rotary president Andy Meehan     Photo by Jane Jewell

The Chestertown Rotary Club, at its luncheon meeting Feb. 27, at the Fish Whistle, gave the first annual Dr. Paul Titsworth Service Award to “Save Our Hospital,” a group of citizens and medical professionals who have been working to ensure that Chestertown continues to have a full-service hospital with beds for in-patient care.

The afternoon started with an excellent buffet luncheon provided by the Fish Whistle with pulled pork, roast beef, chicken breasts, and Jeff Carroll’s famous mac-n-cheese. along with salads and a choice of pastries for dessert.  The meeting proper began with the pledge of allegiance and a recitation of Rotary’s Four-Way Test, guidelines that members use before taking action:  1) Is it the Truth? 2) Is it Fair to all concerned? 3) Will it build Good Will and Better Friendships? 4) Will it be Beneficial to all concerned?

Following the lunch, Rotary president Andy Meehan got the ball rolling with general introductions while Brian Moore, the general manager of WCTR radio, gave the history of Dr. Paul Titsworth. Meehan then presented the award. Present on behalf of the “Save Our Hospital” group were Drs. Gerald O’Connor and Wayne Benjamin, who were among the first to alert the community that the University of Maryland Medical System (UMMS), which acquired the Chestertown hospital in 2007, was planning to close the facility and move its services to Easton. O’Connor said it was an honor to receive the award. He mentioned Marge Elsberg, Kay Macintosh, Zane and Nancy Carter, Glen Wilson and Dr. Benjamin as other key figures in the fight to save the hospital. He gave a brief summary of how local physicians became aware of UMMS’s plans and began to work to oppose a hospital closing. A community meeting at the Chestertown firehouse in January 2016 drew an overflow crowd, estimated at more than 500. Despite the favorable response by the Maryland General Assembly, “Our job is not over,” O’Connor said. He also thanked state senator Steve Hershey and delegate Jay Jacobs for their support in the Maryland General Assembly.

Benjamin agreed that the fight must continue, noting that UMMS appears to have adopted a strategy of “bleeding to death” the local hospital by instituting small cuts most residents won’t notice until it’s too late. He urged attendees to read the affiliation agreement between the local hospital and UMMS and see the promises made at the time of the acquisition. “We need to follow through” to ensure that the promises are kept, he said.

Dr. Karen Couch, superintendent of Kent County Schools.       Photo by Jane Jewell

Karen Couch, Kent County superintendent of education, introduced Mizeur, the keynote speaker. Mizeur is a clinical herbalist, trained as a nutritionist, who operates her own herb farm in Kent County.  She had a long list of experience in healthcare policy before becoming co-chair of the Rural Healthcare Workgroup. Couch said Mizeur is continuing to work to assure that the workgroup’s recommendations are incorporated into legislation. Mizeur served as co-chair of the Rural Healthcare Workgroup established by the Maryland General Assembly in response to residents’ concerns over reports that the Chestertown hospital may close or have its services drastically reduced. The workgroup delivered its report last fall and is waiting for the General Assembly to act on its recommendations.

Mizeur’s talk gave an update on the workgroup’s report, how it is being received in the General Assembly, and future prospects for the continued presence of the hospital in Chestertown. She praised the doctors who raised the alarm about the possibility that the hospital would close. “Doctors want to take care of people, not deal with politics or business,” she said. The low population density of rural areas like the Eastern Shore creates a challenge for getting medical personnel to move to rural areas. It can be an issue of “selling the town,” selling Chestertown to prospective employees.  She said the workgroup focused on the principle that their job was to look for the best way to deliver care to rural areas — not the costs or the business aspects of the problem. Their report tried to identify ways to attract physicians to the Shore. It can be an issue of “selling the town,” selling Chestertown to interested medical personnel. A major issue is how to mitigate the problems of distance, which affect not only getting patients to immediate care but the ability of their families to visit and support them. If the nearest medical facility is an hour away when someone has a stroke or heart attack, it may not matter how good the care is at that facility if the person can’t get there in time. Transportation is a key to any solution, Mizeur said. A study conducted in parallel with the workgroups by the University of Maryland School of Public Health arrived at essentially the same conclusions, especially the need to keep inpatient care in Kent County and similar areas of the state. Currently, UMMS is legally required to keep the hospital open with in-patient beds until 2022.  But, Mizeure pointed out, that doesn’t mean that the hospital facilities and services can’t be left to “wither on the vine” during that time.  She stressed that we must unite and keep UMMS accountable or we will wake up in three years and discover that we have no hospital.  However, the final answer is in the hands of the General Assembly, she said.

Heather Mizeur, co-chair of Maryland’s Work Group on Rural Health Care Delivery, at Rotary luncheon. Leslie Sea and Brian Moore of WCTR radio in the background.    Photo by Jane Jewell

The biggest challenge to finding a solution is the private ownership of the Shore Regional Health facilities, of which the Chestertown hospital is part. Neither the community nor the state has sufficient leverage to control UMMS decisions, which are still driven by a desire to pull services out of Chestertown and move them to Easton, Mizeur said. She said workgroup members and the “Save Our Hospital” group is continuing to advocate for the Maryland Department of Health to monitor services at the local hospital and ensure they are not being eroded. “We’re doing our best to hold UMMS accountable,” she said. “We think we have a strong case,” Mizeur said.  State senators Steve Hershey and Mike Middleton remain committed to helping save the hospital, but the process continues. “It’s a moving target,” she said.

The Rotarian’s service award is named for Dr. Paul Titsworth, who was president of Washington College from 1923 to 1933 and the founding president of the Chestertown Rotary Club in 1926, The “Save Our Hospital” group is the first recipient of what is to be an annual award.  Sound equipment was provided by Leslie Sea and Brian Moore of WCTR radio, Chestertown.  Rotary International is a widely-respected service organization whose purpose is “to bring together business and professional leaders to provide humanitarian services, encourage high ethical standards in all vocations, and to advance goodwill and peace around the world.”  There are over 35,000 local clubs worldwide.  Anyone interested in joining or finding out more about the organization can contact current Rotary president Andy Meehan at AMeehan12@gmail.com. Visit the International Rotary website here or the Chestertown Rotary FaceBook page here.

Paul Heckels, past president of Chestertown Rotary, and David White hold a picture of Dr. Paul Titsworth, past president of Washington College and founder and first president of the Chestertown Rotary Club.    Photo by Jane Jewell

Dr. Jerry O’Connor, Deborah Mizeur, Andy Meehan    Photo by Jane Jewell

 

 

 

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Attendees at Rotary luncheon at Fish Whistle.      Photo by Jane Jewell

Rotary insignia over the years – Chestertown chapter      Photo by Jane Jewell

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Rotary’s Four-Way Test  Photo by Jane Jewell

Rotary president Andy Meehan, Kent County Library director Jackie Adams, Rev. Frank St. Amour of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church.     Photo by Jane Jewell

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