Greetings from “Save the Hospital.” We are pleased to bring you news about a government plan for the future of the Chestertown hospital.
A few weeks ago, completely unexpectedly, Ben Steffen, Executive Director of the Maryland Health Care Commission which regulates all hospitals in the state, brought officials from MHCC, the state Department of Health, the Health Services Cost Review Commission and The Walsh Center for Rural Health Analysis to Chestertown to meet with doctors and community members from Save the Hospital.
Mr. Steffen’s experts reviewed the decline of our hospital—fewer patients, fewer procedures and a financial report awash in red ink. We girded for news of a closure in 2022.
But instead, the Walsh Center’s Alana Knudson astonished us by unveiling a proposal to reinvent our hospital and make it a place that will always provide high quality inpatient services—and much more. Save the Hospital jaws dropped, but it was obvious that Dr. Knudson’s proposal was supported by every regulatory body in the state.
Where did this bureaucratic change of heart come from? Likely, in part, from our community’s resolve to save our hospital, but also because the regulators have concluded that leaving rural communities without access to healthcare is bad policy.
While we’ve been pleading for help from state officials and lobbying for legislation that would require the hospital to maintain inpatient services, rural hospitals across the country have been failing. With few patients to care for and one-size-fits-all regulations, they can’t stay afloat, leaving communities without a hospital to provide healthcare, jobs and economic stability.
The pressure of those closures may be part of the reason that Mr. Steffen called Dr. Knudson. Here’s what The Walsh Center is proposing in a report MHCC just sent to the General Assembly:
- Transform our hospital from an “Acute General Hospital”—the kind that works on the densely populated Western Shore—to a new designation known as a “Maryland Rural Hospital.” Regulations will be flexible and there will be strong quality requirements.
- “Right-size” the hospital and offer services that match our demographics and patient needs, providing inpatient diagnostics, surgery and treatment.
- Retain our emergency department and outpatient services including same day surgery; increase telehealth and attract physician specialists.
- Establish an “Aging and Wellness Center of Excellence” within the hospital to provide outpatient services especially for older adults including primary care, care coordination, transportation coordination and social services. Specialties will include behavioral health, cardiology, pulmonology, nephrology, neurology, orthopedics and palliative care. Wellness may include massage therapy, skin care, acupuncture, herbal medicine, nutrition, preventive medicine and active lifestyle programs.
- The Center of Excellence will offer accreditation programs in geriatric care for advance practice nurses, pharmacists and social workers.
After watching our hospital struggle for so long, it’s hard to imagine that state officials are leading an effort to turn our hospital into a rural healthcare model, but that’s exactly what’s happening, and Shore Regional Health CEO and President Ken Kozel says he’s on board. He told Save the Hospital leaders that he likes what he’s seen of the proposal. Mr. Kozel and Board Chair Keith McMahan plan to study the proposal further and meet with UMMS and state officials, but they said they are excited about the prospect of transforming the Chestertown hospital.
This complex project will take years to enact and it will be costly, but it looks as if the state of Maryland and Shore Regional Health think the plan is worthy of serious investment.
We’ll do our best to keep you informed about our hospital’s future. For the full Walsh Center report, go here.
By Margie Elsberg
Save the Hospital Communications Coordinator
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