Council Meets New Hospital Director

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Shore Regional Health CEO Ken Kozel introduces Kathy Elliott, new director of the Chestertown hospital, to the mayor and council

Ken Kozel of Shore Regional Health came before the Chestertown council Sept. 4 to introduce Kathy Elliott, the new executive director of the Chestertown hospital.

Kozel said Elliott was chosen after an “exhaustive” interview process involving board members, physicians, management and team members working in Chestertown. He said that she is a long-time resident of Kent County and Chestertown. “What appealed to us the most is her commitment and passion for this community,” Kozel said. Elliott is a nurse by profession, “with specialties and experience in just about every area of nursing,” he said, noting that nursing is one of the primary functions of the hospital. Equally important, though, was the need for a community member who is passionate and loyal to the community, Kozel said.

Elliott said she has worked in the hospital for a number of years. She said she would be “bringing the bedside to the boardroom and the boardroom to the bedside, so the people closest to our patients understand what we are doing.” She said she knows she has a lot to learn about the management of the hospital – “It’s been eye-opening and exciting, and it’s a challenge – I’m looking forward to it.” She said she had started as interim director at the end of March.

Councilman David Foster asked if she would take part in recruiting new doctors for the local hospital. She said she would; “I’ve recruited nurses in the past,” she said, adding that there would be “a learning curve” as she worked to bring in new physicians.

Councilman Marty Stetson said he had heard a report that the hospital was looking to set its number of inpatient beds at 15. He asked how that number was arrived at, noting that far more people are likely to be in the hospital during flu season. “If you have 27, 28, 29 people, what do you do with them?”

“We admit then,” Elliott said. “We have the bed space, but we staff to the 14ish level,” she said. In the event of a need for more personnel, the hospital can call in additional nurses and other personnel to handle the higher patient load. “It’s why we look at things every four hours and plan accordingly.” She said that presently, the hospital has 26 physical beds.

Kozel said the 15 number is “a guess,” projecting the hospital’s mission through 2022 and beyond. He said the healthcare community is focused on keeping people healthy and out of the hospital rather than admitting every prospective patient. He said today’s health care community looks at a prospective patient and asks, “Is there a better way to care for that patient that doesn’t require admission, which is very labor-intensive, very expensive, and often times not necessary.” Primary care and preventive care are important ingredients in this approach, he said.

Councilman Ellsworth Tolliver asked how Elliott was advocating to preserve the hospital for the community, at a time when many residents are worried it may close or downsize to something inadequate to their needs.

“The hospital is important to me on a couple of different levels,” Elliott said. “It’s my job, and it’s my community that we serve,” she said. She said she was working to bring in specialties and primary care physicians needed in the community.

Foster asked what residents should do if they hear of someone coming to the local hospital and being sent to Easton for services available locally. “You can call me,” said Elliott.

Erney Maher, a Heron Point resident, said there was much concern that Shore Regional Health is planning to move programs out of the hospital and to Easton. He cited a reduction of the number of beds and closing the intensive care unit. “We would like to hear from Mr. Kozel things that are new and positive about the hospital, not that we are cutting this or that.” He said the Heron Point community is very loyal to the hospital and finds it a source of anxiety when it hears of loss of services.

Kozel said Shore Regional Health has recently brought to the Chestertown area a pulmonologist, a cardiologist, an ear-nose-and-throat specialist, and several primary care providers, including Dr. Susan Ross as a hospital staff member. It has also hired several other doctors to assist her, and a nurse practitioner. “We’re looking for a general surgeon, as well.” He said the new medical pavilion at Philosophers Terrace is already at capacity, and the hospital is searching for ways to expand its capabilities. “We recognize that that’s our responsibility.”

Dr. Gerry O’Connor said he has seen disturbing evidence that Shore Regional Health is working to move patients and services out of the Chestertown hospital, such as telling patients that the hospital is “full” when only four or five beds are in use. “There’s no tangible feel that I get that Shore Regional wants to keep it going,” he said. “The low census concerns me; there’s something going on.”

Mayor Chris Cerino said to Kozel, “We hear from you all (…) ‘we’re doing everything we can to serve the community,’ and we hear doctors from within the facility basically say almost the exact opposite. It’s really confusing.” He said it was in the town’s interest to preserve as many services as possible, especially given that residents are used to a full-service hospital being available. He said a full discussion might take three hours, and suggested a special meeting to go over the issues might be in order in the near future.

Also at the meeting, Latoya Murray and Catherine Torrez of Saving Hope came before the council to explain her program’s work for local families and children. She said the group provides a nurture and parenting program that works with the Department of Social Services and the local courts to help families that are seeking to regain custody of their children. She said they had recently ended a project to do a housing assessment of Kent and Caroline counties. They also held a clothing and school supply giveaway – “this is our fourth year doing that” – in partnership with Dixon Valve, serving some 70 families. They have an annual food drive and a “Pictures with Santa” event at Kent Family Center, for which they partner with the Judy Center of the Kent County Schools to provide books for young children.

In addition, Murray said, they provided “blessing bags” for homeless families, with socks, hygiene products such as toothpaste, non-perishable foods, and other useful items they can carry with them. They announced future events including one to educate the community on the history of Juneteenth, the African-American holiday in celebration of emancipation. They are also planning a coat drive for this winter, and a women’s expo showcasing breast cancer awareness and other women’s health issues. She said the group hoped to be able to offer the event in Wilmer Park, but dates were still being decided on.

Councilman Linda Kuiper asked how the group’s activities are funded. Murray said they work with the Kent Family Center and the Department of Social Services, as well as charging a consulting fee for in-home parenting programs. For the giveaways, “everything is donated,” she said.

The council signed a letter of support for Neyah White, who was applying for a Class D liquor license in the former location of J.R.’s Past Time Pub at 341 High St. Town Manager Bill Ingersoll read from the letter, noting the history of the location as a tavern over the years since the 1950s, if not earlier.

White said the four-building complex – which includes the former Lemon Leaf restaurant, the bar, and several adjoining rooms — “is in some of the worst shape of any business I’ve ever walked into.” He said it would be impossible to open it as a restaurant any time soon, though that is the long-range plan. “We are going to get there,” he said. “We think this is a hole in the smile of High Street, and we want to fill it.” He said he would operate it as a tavern until the building was in a condition to offer food service. He said the short-range plan was to re-open the bar kitchen, which has been out of service for several years. “We want to do it the right way,” he said. For the short term, the business will be called “Limited Time Offering” in recognition that it will eventually change to a larger operation.

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Letters to Editor

  1. Carla Massoni says:

    Sounds like Shore Regional Health and Mr. Kozel are doing everything in their power to assure that we will have a first rate emergency care facility.

  2. Eliott fuhrman says:

    Would like to review the contract they signed telling what they were going do and what they are doing makes absolute no sense that so many key people have left and no not about retirement but about can no longer work under these conditions also like. See the rfp that was put out to sell the rehab center

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