Margie Elsberg’s recent report from Save the Hospital offers wonderful, unexpected good news about a new plan to save our local hospital. Like hospitals in rural areas nationwide, UM Shore Medical Center at Chestertown has struggled to provide the wide ranging medical services our community needs as costs skyrocket. Now, instead of justifying closing our hospital or severely limiting the services it offers, this plan re-envisions it, proposing a new model for rural health care.
The Walsh Center Report analyzes the hospital’s problems in detail, based on the demographics of the Upper Shore. Many challenges facing our schools, businesses and the hospital result from the fact that Kent is the smallest of Maryland’s counties. In addition, the populations of Kent County and northern Queen Anne’s skew older and poorer. If the hospital and other vital community resources continue to shrink, people will move away, exacerbating these problems.
However, the proposal for a Maryland Rural Hospital redefines the growing number of older people in our community as an asset rather than a liability. If we are, as the demographics suggest, the oldest of Maryland’s counties, why not have a medical center which recognizes that and actively seeks to provide appropriate services to that population?
The report proposes specialties including behavioral health, pulmonology, nephrology, neurology, orthopedics, and palliative care – medical care that many of us, of any age, need. In addition it recommends other services: social work, transportation, and care coordination as well as active lifestyle and wellness programs like massage therapy, skin care, acupuncture, nutrition.
For the past few years, people in Kent and Northern Queen Anne’s Counties have had to travel to Easton, Annapolis, Christiana or Baltimore for health care. If fully implemented, this proposal should offer our community many medical services closer to home. Those services as well as a good wellness program should continue to make Chestertown a desirable place to retire and attract younger people to Chestertown too.
We all owe a debt of gratitude to Save the Hospital and to our representatives in Annapolis who have worked hard to keep our hospital functioning. We should also thank state health care officials who were willing to rethink what health care in a rural area could be.
There is still a lot of work ahead to bring this new vision for the hospital to fruition. However, the community has every reason for optimism and an incentive to keep things moving forward now that the people who oversee health care in Maryland are working with us.