Protesters denounce reduction in pediatric services at Baltimore's MedStar Franklin Square hospital

About 75 people gathered outside MedStar Franklin Square Medical Center Tuesday to protest the hospital’s decision to cut back pediatric services.

They carried signs that said “Greed Kills Babies,” “Children’s Lives Matter” and “Children Over Profit,” and described the hospital’s decision as detrimental to the community.

“They are making these decisions based on spreadsheets,” said Kyle Ham, who brings his 1-year-old daughter to the hospital for care.

The hospital announced last month that it was cutting inpatient children’s services and combining the pediatric and adult emergency rooms, citing declining pediatric admissions amid a statewide effort to reduce hospitalizations to save money in the health care system.

Pediatrics tends to bring lower reimbursements than specialties such as orthopedics.

The decision caused an uproar from staff, patients and community members who said the hospital was abandoning its mission as a community hospital in favor of profits.

Hospital officials declined to comment about the protest beyond a statement emphasizing that the hospital would still treat pediatric patients — as it has in the past.

“The only discontinued service is a very small inpatient pediatric unit,” the statement said. “All other pediatric services remain available at MedStar Franklin Square Medical Center.”

The hospital is adopting a model that many hospitals use of treating both adults and children in the same emergency room, the statement said. The emergency room would be staffed by pediatricians or doctors trained in treating both children and adults. Children in need of more intensive treatment will be transferred to another hospital.

The statement pointed out that the hospital would continue to treat children in the following areas: pediatric emergency care, neonatal intensive care, newborn nursery care, adolescent psychiatry and behavioral health services, pediatric primary care, ambulatory outpatient pediatric surgery and children’s sports medicine.

“MedStar Franklin Square Medical Center remains committed to serving pediatric patients throughout the community,” the statement said.

The hospital is the only one in northeast Baltimore County. The next closest hospital is Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center, about 9 miles away. Nearly half of pediatric patients at Franklin Square are on Medicaid and rely on the bus for transportation. For them, traveling to another facility would be logistically challenging, protesters said.

Hospital staffers contend that the restructuring resulted in eight doctors and nearly 30 other staff losing their jobs. A hospital spokeswoman said she could not confirm those exact figures, but said many were offered jobs in other departments, and that 23 declined the new jobs. The hospital’s chair of pediatrics, Scott Krugman, was among the losses.

Baltimore County State’s Attorney Scott D. Shellenberger, who attended Tuesday’s protest, said pediatric doctors and nurses at Franklin are part of the county’s child protection team that investigates abuse. Led by Krugman, they helped investigate cases and testify in court. They also provided medical and mental health treatment to victims. The relationship is now in jeopardy because of the restructuring, Shellenberger said.

“To deprive the victims of child abuse of the skills of these medical professional for the sake of making a buck is worse than a tragedy, it is a disgrace,” he told the crowd.

The loss of doctors has left patients scrambling for new physicians for their children.

Colleen Rhine of Middle River has taken her daughter to Franklin Square for years for surgeries and doctor’s appointments to treat a birth defect that causes one leg to be shorter than the other. She now must go to another hospital because her daughter’s physician, Krugman, is no longer there.

“The community built this hospital and the hospital has failed them,” Rhine said.

amcdaniels@baltsun.com

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