The University of Maryland Medical Center is moving to tighten control of its Midtown Campus, a month after a patient there was found outside the emergency room in frigid temperatures wearing just a gown.
Video of hospital staff putting the 22-year-old woman out went viral, stoking national outrage and sparking discussion of the practice known as patient dumping.
The medical center on Monday appointed Alison Brown, a 25-year veteran of the system responsible for marketing and strategic planning, to take over as president of the Midtown Campus in March. In a change of management structure, Brown will report directly to the medical center’s CEO, Dr. Mohan Suntha.
“She understands the University of Maryland system because she has spent the bulk of her career here,” Suntha said. “She can hit the ground running, understanding our culture and our mission.”
Brown’s responsibilities will include ensuring high-quality, safe experiences for patients. She will also lead the integration of the Midtown Campus, which includes staff changes, to better fit the culture of the rest of the 14-hospital system.
Suntha said Brown’s appointment and the integration process were not a result of the Jan. 9 incident. A 22-year-old woman identified only as Rebecca was found barely clothed and disoriented. Temperatures that evening fell to the 30s.
Suntha said the leadership change was part of a strategic plan developed a year ago, but gained new urgency after Rebecca’s case. Suntha, who has apologized for the incident, said again Monday that it was an aberration.
Brown, a former clinical nurse, started at the University of Maryland Medical Center system as vice president of strategic planning. The job included clinical program development, physician referral and access services, and medical staff recruitment.
One of her strengths, Suntha said, is her ability to bring different groups together.
She played an important role in bringing St. Joseph Medical Center in Towson into the university system, Suntha said.
Brown said she is looking forward to working on the front lines of health care. She is familiar with some aspects of the Midtown Campus, she said, having helped bring clinical programs to the hospital. One of her priorities will be to help build staff morale.
“Certainly what happened a month ago has been hard for the team,” she said.”I will continue to build pride in what they do every day.”
Brown will keep her systemwide position overseeing marketing and communications. She will continue to report to Bob Chrencik, CEO of the health system, for those duties.
The Midtown Campus has a large patient population that shows up to the emergency room more in need of social services than emergency care. One of Brown’s tasks will be to bring groups together to address these needs.
“Those are conversations that are going to require bringing many stakeholders together,” Suntha said. “One of the greatest skills Alison possesses is the ability to bring stakeholders together.”
Brown’s appointment is the latest in a series of changes aimed at taking firmer control of the Midtown Campus. In a memo to staff last week obtained by The Baltimore Sun, Suntha said that the hospital’s current head, Brian Bailey, would leave in the spring and several executives would start reporting directly to the University of Maryland Medical Center. Those positions include leaders who deal with patient experience, procurement, finance and pharmacy compliance.
The family of Rebecca has hired a lawyer to pursue a possible lawsuit.
Her mother was browsing the internet in January when she saw the video of her daughter. The mother, Cheryl Chandler, had reported her daughter missing weeks before.
Chandler said her daughter, who is from Charles County, was diagnosed with Asperger's and a mental illness that she did not specify six years ago. She was in Baltimore as part of an intensive residential treatment program when she had gone missing.
The family’s attorney, J. Wyndal Gordon, called the leadership change “a step in the right direction,” but said “it doesn't undo the cruel and inhumane treatment that Rebecca received in January."
One patient advocacy group said more change still is needed.
“Hopefully this will lead to heightened accountability at the university's hospital and related medical facilities,” said Frankie Berger, director of advocacy for the Treatment Advocacy Center. “But without fixing the obvious fundamental problems with the state mental health system — not enough publicly available psychiatric beds, no path into less restrictive outpatient commitment, and an unclear dangerousness standard — Maryland emergency departments will certainly continue to street patients.”
Suntha has said an internal investigation identified a "breakdown in coordination" of Rebecca’s care after she was discharged to "ensure the social needs of the patient were met."
Hospital officials have said individuals have been held accountable, but have not said who, if anyone, has been disciplined. They have said new procedures have been instituted and staff has been trained.
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services and state health officials are investigating the incident.
The University of Maryland Medical System took over what was then Maryland General Hospital in 1999. It rebranded it with the university system name in 2013. It will soon began construction on a 10-story, 200,000-square-foot outpatient center that will focus on chronic disease management and community health. The building is expected to open in 2020.
Baltimore Sun reporter Talia Richman contributed to this article.