The Save Our Hospital: Our Worries and Hopes by Margie Elsberg

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The standing-room audience at Save the Hospital’s meeting last Thursday of doctors, nurses, first responders and citizens asked hard questions and offered powerful indictments of how Shore Regional Health manipulates the inpatient count in Chestertown today, and decried plans to eliminate the Intensive Care Unit after 2022. Our doctors insisted that the need for ICU care is non-negotiable while 911-responders and hospital nurses told Shore president and CEO Ken Kozel they believe that Easton physicians sometimes transfer patients to Easton to reduce the number of inpatients in Chestertown.

They say unnecessary transfers take ambulances and 911 responders out of the county and patients far from home. They explained that Chestertown nurses are sent home when they report for work because there are so few patients, leaving them to choose whether to lose income for the day or accept pay allocated for a vacation or personal leave day. So many nurses have been sent home multiple times, we learned, that they have no paid leave left, and five long-time Chestertown nurses have just resigned to accept secure jobs elsewhere.

Another concern was the aging, reduced workload and retirement of local primary physicians. Six of our 13 primary doctors are now 64 to 70-plus, a situation Shore Health has always known could be avoided by recruitment efforts. Nonetheless, until Scott Burleson became Chestertown’s Executive Director, Shore made NO attempt to recruit primary doctors to Chestertown.

In less than two years, until his retirement in March, Burleson brought Dr. Julia Belanger and Dr. Beth Reetz to Chestertown and recruited Dr. Matthew Reetz (Beth’s husband) to start practicing in December, 2017. Inexplicably, Shore has delayed Matt Reetz’ arrival until January, 2019. Notably, Burleson’s part-time replacement, Kathy Elliott, the highly-respected Nursing Director in both Chestertown and Grasonville, has no experience recruiting physicians.

Meanwhile, Save the Hospital and Shore are suddenly allies (politics makes strange bedfellows), seeking legislation that will literally save our hospital beyond 2022. We both want Maryland to designate our hospital as a “Rural Access Community Hospital,” a change that will save inpatient care and direct the state to provide support to offset the reality that rural care costs more to deliver than urban care.

We will need huge community support to win this legislation, so please stay tuned. For now, please use the hospital and donate to the Chester River Health Foundation to equip our excellent hospital with state-of-the-art technology.

On behalf of Save the Hospital,

Margie Elsberg

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Letters to Editor

  1. Vickie Q says:

    Great article. Wow, we need efforts to preserve employment!

  2. Roger D Brown says:

    Thanks for the update Margie. Looks like we need to keep fighting.

  3. Karen O'Connor says:

    It continues to be disappointing, but not shocking, that Shore Regional Health is doing nothing to recruit physicians to our hospital. One of the key promises made by the University of Maryland Medical System at the time of affiliation in 2008 was the active recruitment of physicians to Chester River. In addition, the School of Medicine was to be a resource for that recruitment. One of many promises not kept, this pigeon is now coming home to roost. UMMS has disappointed on so many issues; lack of physicians could negate any legislation that helps keep our hospital open past 2022.
    One thing that should be considered locally is developing support to offer paying of student loans as a benefit of relocation to Chestertown. This strategy is being employed successfully elsewhere: I know of a pediatrician who left a comfortable practice in Annapolis to relocate to Idaho, partly because of relief from onerous student loans. This was the primary incentive in the compensation package!! Instead of investing in movie theaters( though I am glad we will soon have one) the town and county might consider whether investing in a physician might provide a better return on investment for this county.
    Our representatives on the Shore Health Board of Directors have a responsibility to keep this issue in front of the Board and press for action.Their identity should be known to us and they should be reporting to us. Save Our Hospital is doing a great job and must continue to keep the issues in the spotlight.

    • Glenn Wilson says:

      I am a local representative on the Shore Regional Health Board and also part of the Save The Hospital group. All SRH Board Members are listed on the SRH website. Several of us local SRH Board Members attended this STH meeting and I spoke. We have also had separate meetings with SRH’s CEO Kozel and Board Chairman Dillon about our hospital and its future. As I stated at the STH meeting, we (STH & SRH) need to, and are beginning to, work together to get greater funding for rural healthcare by dialoging with our local elected officials and the University of MD Medical System, which owns SRH. It is simply more expensive to provide quality rural healthcare and the State of MD needs to step up to this reality!

  4. Daniel Menefee says:

    I find it hard to believe that Shore is suddenly an ally when they keep artificially tinkering with the numbers. Low utilization ultimately makes their case to consolidate in Easton, so their sudden desire to push the legislation is suspect. If they really want the legislation to fly they would show honest utilization numbers. Their behavior speaks more to their intentions than public statements.

    Getting a peek at internal documents and communications is the only way to find out where Shore Health is headed. But unfortunately, Shore Health is exempt from complying with Freedom of Information Act Requests — because of their nonprofit status — even though they receive taxpayer funds.

  5. Marty Stetson says:

    The gratitude that is owed to Margie Elsberg and those others who have helped her can not be measured. She has worked tirelessly to keep the hospital, a real hospital, here in Chestertown. We are all better off because of her work. Thank you Margie does not seem like enough, but THANK YOU.

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