Open Letter to Governor Hogan: Chestertown Needs Special Rural Community Hospital Status

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Dear Governor Hogan,

The delivery of healthcare to all of the citizens of Maryland is a topic that is often in the news and is especially important here in Chestertown, on the beautiful Eastern Shore.

I served on the Board of the Chester River Hospital Center in 2008, when the Board voted to affiliate with the University of Maryland Medical Center. At that time, serious financial obstacles faced the hospital. UMMS made many promises such as maintaining the inpatient services already being delivered with quality at our facility. Also included in the promises were recruitment assistance to augment or replace physicians’ services as retirement occurred, expansion of specialty clinics for our considerable numbers of older citizens, and physical improvements to complement our already leading-edge technology( which included digital mammography, one of the first places on the Shore to offer it).

In short order, with the input of directors from Shore Regional Health, Chester River was taken out of the mix that would have assured success on all fronts. Centralized scheduling favored transport to Easton, as did print ads for services. Eventually we lost on-site management. Physician recruitment has been delayed to the point where it is a crisis. A once-vibrant community hospital is now a shell, and the community lives in fear of losing it altogether.

There is a solution, the result of the state-mandated study on rural healthcare delivery on the Eastern Shore. A stopgap measure keeps things status quo until 2022, but funding us as a Special Rural Community Hospital, as recommended in the Report of the Workgroup on Rural Health Delivery to the Maryland Health Care Commission, would mean that Chestertown, Kent County, and upper Queen Anne’s County would continue to have access to most hospital services at an existing facility.

This community would suffer greatly if all that was available was an Emergency Department. We have a 238 year old college, several large employers, a continuing care retirement community and of course, many citizens who need healthcare services. A lack of convenient public transportation makes it difficult to go to Easton for routine services, much less to visit loved ones who may need inpatient care. There is need for additional services at the Chestertown hospital to attract and keep young people here. It is most unfortunate that we have to ask young parents to drive to Easton, Annapolis or Wilmington for pediatric inpatient care.

When I voted to join UMMS, I did so in good faith. I was given to understand that our hospital would remain vital for many years to come. I am dismayed at what has happened. I sincerely hope you will do all you can to make sure University of Maryland Shore Regional Health at Chestertown is designated a Special Rural Community Hospital, and is funded as such, so it can continue to serve this special place I call home.

Karen P. O’Connor
MSHS, MT (ASCP) SBB

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