Eastern Shore Exempted from 'Free Standing Medical Center Bill,' - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

UPDATED: Eastern Shore Exempted from 'Free Standing Medical Center Bill,' Enabling Hospitals to Operate As-is

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University of Maryland Shore Medical Center at Chestertown. (Photo: WBOC) University of Maryland Shore Medical Center at Chestertown. (Photo: WBOC)

CHESTERTOWN, Md.- Locals and doctors at the University of Maryland Shore Medical Center in Chestertown have been worried about a series of cutbacks over the years.  A bill in Annapolis had them concerned that the hospital could soon remove their inpatient facilities.  But at a Thursday night meeting, they got some good news from the chair of the Maryland Senate Finance Committee.

It may not be a sprawling hospital campus, but to people living in Kent and Queen Anne's counties, this hospital is a lifeline, and a support to the entire community.

"This is a security blanket.  It gives you peace of mind, a sense of well-being.  We have an elderly population here who can't travel.  They like the proximity to a full service facility," said Dr. Gerry O'Connor, a general surgeon at the hospital.

But that facility has seen cutbacks, and locals have been concerned about a bill that would have enabled the University of Maryland Shore Medical System to shut down services at the hospital.

"I had a fear that they would eventually close inpatient beds, and every meeting I've been to, that was my impression, that they intended to get rid of inpatient care at this facility," said O'Connor

But a special guest at Thursday night's meeting, Senate Finance Committee Chair Mac Middleton, a Democrat from Charles County, said that those fears can be put to rest.

"So after listening to all of this, Delegate Hammen and myself said we really need to move forward.  Rather than take this issue up, let's take if off the table," said Middleton.

Reaction to the news was relief.

"I feel very confident," said Kent County Commissioner William Short.  "I believe in our legislature.  I believe in Senator Middleton.  I believe in the whole process now that we've been given a seat at the table so it's going to turn out for the best for Chestertown and for Kent County."

"What we are asking for here is not shock-trauma, but good core services for our aging community," said Republican Kent County Delegate Jay Jacobs.

"I think it's a great positive step in our direction, however, I don't think our efforts are over yet," said O'Connor.

The goal now is to work together between the hospital, community, and state to come up with a plan for how these rural hospitals can continue to operate.

UPDATE: WBOC reached out to University of Maryland Shore Regional Health, they sent the following statement.

"University of Maryland Shore Regional Health applauds the leadership of Senator Middleton, Delegate Hammen, Secretary Mitchell and all of our Eastern Shore delegation members in recognizing the challenges we face in delivering rural health care,” said Ken Kozel, President and Chief Executive Officer of University of Maryland Shore Regional Health.  “ This plan to pause and evaluate rural health care needs on Maryland’s Eastern Shore is a plan we enthusiastically endorse. “

“As our Shore Regional Health strategic planning process has made clear to us, we face unique challenges under Maryland’ s waiver to provide for the communities’ full array of health care needs, made more complex by the need to address issues around an aging population, geographic isolation and low population density, limited transportation options, the recruitment and retention of physicians and advanced practice providers and the economic viability of our region,” Kozel said. 

“We believe that the State’s rural health analysis will help to bring clarity for our path forward and UMSRH looks forward to being a partner with other community representatives in this process.”

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