Addressing gaps in Baltimore's health care

Op-ed: Mid-Atlantic Health Care plans to invest $20 million into creating a skilled nursing facility in West B

The residents of West Baltimore currently spend nearly twice as much on health care as the state average. One reason for the high cost in this area is that there aren't enough local skilled nursing and rehab beds to care for these residents after they are discharged from area hospitals.

As a result, more than 40 percent of residents who need several weeks of rehabilitation services before they are ready to return home must leave the area to get care. That not only makes it challenging for family members to visit, but also makes it more difficult for physicians and health care providers to coordinate care.

To address this gap, Mid-Atlantic Health Care (MAHC), a provider of skilled post-acute services, plans to invest $20 million into renovating a largely vacant building on West Fayette Street, creating a hotel-like skilled nursing and rehab facility with 80 beds and a 2,500-square-foot rehab gym. The beds would be relocated from temporarily de-licensed "comprehensive care facility" beds at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center and put to use where they are needed.

Restore Health Baltimore, as the center will be known, will partner with Baltimore-based acute care hospitals to identify at-risk populations and groups of patients who could be kept healthier, avoiding costly hospital services. Patients with chronic diseases would benefit from a newer facility focused on patient-centered chronic disease specialty care, optimal continuity and transition of care and population health.

Restore Health will offer a "bundled care" approach that provides incentives to providers to keep patients healthier. That not only benefits residents directly, but it also supports the new Maryland Medicare waiver launched a few years ago. Under that waiver, the state must find innovative approaches to prevent "unnecessary" admissions and reduce costs while improving health; a day in a hospital bed costs more than twice as much as a day in a skilled nursing and rehab facility and also ties up health care resources that could be used for sicker patients.

The proposed skilled nursing and rehab project also is expected to create 120 direct, permanent jobs, as well as generate a number of indirect construction and other jobs. These jobs will range from maintenance and food service, which don't require a college degree, to administrative and caregiver positions, some of which require more advanced education.

The facility will be conveniently located close to public transportation and within walking distance of University of Maryland Medical Center and University of Maryland Midtown Campus. Our two city hospitals have the greatest demand for skilled nursing home placements.

It is the hope that this private investment will facilitate other innovative public health approaches to meet the needs of this underserved population. Working together is the best way to move the city forward, one step at a time.

Dr. Stephen N. Davis is chairman of the Department of Medicine within the University of Maryland School of Medicine; his email is sdavis@medicine.umaryland.edu.

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