Harford County hospital care that began as the brainchild of Havre de Grace residents in 1910, officially passed out of local control this week as Upper Chesapeake Health officially merged with the University of Maryland Medical Systems, ending a four-year process that culminated in a name change to "University of Maryland Upper Chesapeake Health."
The announcement Monday came after Upper Chesapeake and UMMS spent four years working together in an arrangement hospital officials say has meant improved health care in Harford County.
Although the Upper Chesapeake Health Foundation will remain as Upper Chesapeake's independent fundraising arm, the hospital's identity will change.
"UCH will retain its name, but will be rebranded to adopt the system-wide brand and colors of UMMS," Lyle Sheldon, president and chief executive officer of Upper Chesapeake, said via email Tuesday.
"UCH will now become University of Maryland Upper Chesapeake Health (UM UCH), HMH will be University of Maryland Harford Memorial Hospital (UM HMH), and UCMC will become University of Maryland Upper Chesapeake Medical Center (UM UCMC)," he said.
The hospital will be a subsidiary of UMMS, similar to that entity's other affiliates, he said.
It will continue as a "community health system" with its own board of directors made up of community leaders elected to the board. Two UMMS representatives, however, will be added to the board.
Sheldon, and any future presidents, will become a member of the UMMS senior leadership team and an employee of UMMS.
He will report to the UMMS president and the Upper Chesapeake board of directors, while the senior management team of Upper Chesapeake will report to Sheldon.
Upper Chesapeake employees will remain locally employed by Upper Chesapeake Health.
He noted the merger will mean strength in numbers when dealing with structural changes in the health care system, which most recently has meant the controversial roll-out of the Affordable Care Act.
"An important benefit of this merger, though the timing is coincidental, is the support for us to address the recent challenges with healthcare reform. On both the national and state level, fundamental changes will impact how health care will be provided in the future," Sheldon said.
"There will be significant focus on lowering cost, improving quality, and delivering better long-term outcomes for patients and payers. In this new environment, University of Maryland Upper Chesapeake Health will work closely with its medical staff to continually improve all aspects of the continuum of care while relentlessly looking at ways to be more efficient and cost effective. The merger with UMMS enables UM UCH to address these challenges with the full backing, expertise and resources of a state-wide system," Sheldon said.
The hospital named the federal changes as a major factor in its recent decision to stall plans for a new and improved Harford Memorial Hospital in Havre de Grace, set to be built on Route 155 off of I-95.
Upper Chesapeake has other projects in the works, however, as it recently asked Harford County for a tax credit on a planned high-power electric generator.
Sheldon said UMMS has a record of successfully partnering with community health care providers and uses a decentralized management model to allow decisions to be made on the local level.
The decision to fully merge with UMMS was driven by "many factors," he said, including a growing population, the need to expand medical services, the need to recruit more physicians to practice locally, access to capital to finance the hospital's growth and expansion and the need to "continually look for ways to leverage use of corporate services that are difficult for a small, independent health system to sustain."
The most notable result of the collaboration with UMMS so far was the $61 million Patricia D. and M. Scot Kaufman Cancer Center, which opened this fall.
Besides the new cancer center, UMMS has provided Upper Chesapeake with specialists in numerous sub specialties, pre- and post-transplant services and the University of Maryland Express Care, an emergency transportation system that has offered both ground and air transportation of critically ill patients since 2010, Sheldon said.