Measures to Save Chestertown Hospital Advance in General Assembly

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Sen. Steve Hershey (second from right) and Save the Hospital advocates at a hearing in Annapolis, March 20

Maryland state Senator Steve Hershey (R-36) is working to ensure that Chestertown’s hospital will remain open and useful to residents of Kent and Queen Anne’s counties.

In the current General Assembly session, Hershey introduced Senate Bill 1018, Health Facilities – Chestertown Rural Health Care Delivery Innovations Pilot Program.” A synopsis of the bill says the pilot program would “promote innovative solutions for a sustainable future for inpatient care in rural areas, satisfy requirements for hospital-based care, and ensure improvements to community health.” The bill would also require the state Department of Health to report to the Governor and the General Assembly on the activities and findings from the initial 5 years of the Pilot Program and make recommendations based on its findings.

Margie Elsberg of the Save the Hospital group said in an email March 28, the bill “will transform our hospital into a Rural Health Care Pilot Program. The Pilot Program (hospital) director will be an employee of the Maryland Department of Health and will collaborate with the owner of the hospital, UM Shore Regional Health System and with a local Advisory group to use state resources and innovative initiatives to attract physicians to Chestertown, restore staff members and services, and turn the hospital into a strong and sustainable rural community asset. Under this program, which is scheduled to continue for at least ten years, the hospital will always provide inpatient care.”

As part of the pilot program, the bill would “clearly define certain transportation requirements, establish a certain payment model, identify and address certain regulatory barriers, and seek certain innovative approaches” to providing healthcare in the rural community. The complete text of the bill is online at http://mgaleg.maryland.gov/2019RS/bills/sb/sb1018t.pdf

The bill passed an important hurdle when it was approved by the Senate by a 46-0 vote on March 21. It now goes to the House of Delegates, where it is scheduled for a hearing before the Health and Government Operations Committee on April 3 at 1 p.m. Elsberg noted that Shore Regional Health supports the bill, which means that the bill will most likely be approved by the House and sent on to Gov. Larry Hogan for signature. She also said that Save the Hospital will probably sponsor a bus trip for residents to go to Annapolis to show their support for the bill. In a Facebook post urging residents to call or write to the governor, she asked them to emphasize that “in addition to the health care needs, the hospital is the lynchpin of our economy. If the hospital closes, our large retirement community, our small public school system, Washington College, Dixon Valve and every small business will be irreparably damaged.”

Hershey is also sponsoring Senate Bill 1010, Maryland Health Care Commission – Assessment of Services at the University of Maryland Shore Medical Center in Chestertown.” The bill would require the Maryland Health Commission to determine whether the hospital has reduced its services or transferred some of them to Easton or other Shore Regional Health locations. Using fiscal year 2015 as a baseline for the study, the assessment could give data to determine whether Shore Regional Health has consistently directed patients who would normally go to the Chestertown hospital to go to Easton for treatment. It would also give data on whether specialists working at Chestertown have been transferred to Easton, and whether vacancies at Chestertown – from retirement or other reasons – have been left unfilled. Shore Regional Health administrators have said it’s difficult to recruit young doctors to the Chestertown hospital.

The bill was unanimously approved in the Senate and had its first reading in the House Rules and Executive Nominations Committee March 20. The complete text of Bill SB 1010 is available on the General Assembly website at http://mgaleg.maryland.gov/2019RS/bills/sb/sb1010t.pdf

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Letters to Editor

  1. Janet Brandon says

    Please include mention of the enduring and positive efforts of Marge Elburg in tirelessly advocating support for the Save the Hospital initiative. And to think that Marge will be moving away and still extending her efforts in support of the hospital! A great lady indeed! I also respect and am in awe of her husband Mickey who has established himself as a stalwart supporter and participant in this achievement. Vermont, watch out! The Ellsburgs are on their way! Jan Brandon

  2. Janice Dickson says

    My husband and I sadly left Chestertown 5 years ago; we saw the handwriting on the wall: close the hospital. We had hoped that we’d be able to remain in Chestertown upon my husband’s retirement from WC, but that was not to be. We currently live in Colorado where we have superb medical care, an excellent hospital, and knowledgeable medical professionals. I applaud Marge Elsberg’s efforts and hope C’town will regain a full service hospital rather than the 35-bed ER that existed when we were living there.

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