Starting this fall, the University of Maryland Medical Center plans to funnel patients with chronic conditions who need outpatient care to a new $70 million, 10-story building that will house specialists in pods designed to address diseases from diabetes to heart problems.
The outpatient center is across the street from the UMMC Midtown hospital in central Baltimore, and officials cut the ribbon Tuesday and began moving in medical staffs and patients.
“Chronic disease management is the name of the game,” said Dr. Kashif Munir, medical director of the Center for Diabetes and Endocrinology, during a tour of his pod that will encompass the entire eighth floor. “I see patients who develop kidney disease, heart disease and other problems, and you need specialists in all the fields and coordination now is difficult.”
The outpatient building, supported with $25 million in state funding, is part of an ongoing national movement to reduce hospital admissions by encouraging preventive medical care and treatments for common conditions in less expensive outpatient centers. For example, diabetics with spiking blood sugar often show up in the emergency room, and hospitals have been searching for the best methods of getting them less costly and more effective preventive care.
While many hospitals have adjacent buildings where doctors hold office hours, the medical center takes it a step further by putting complementary specialists physically close with shared administrative services.
The outpatient center will begin scheduling visits with the 500 patients who normally get their care from a medical center doctor each day in offices that span the two hospitals. Hospital officials plan to add an outpatient surgery center, lab and other services.
Opening in coming weeks will be a floor geared toward infectious disease and eye care and another for heart, lung, sleep and gastrointestinal disorders, in addition to the diabetes floor. A primary care center is being planned.
The new building also includes five levels of parking attached to UMMC Midtown’s current parking garage and a community center where residents can go for wellness services.
Alison G. Brown, president of the Midtown Campus, said the center will offer residents in the region the top-tier care sometimes only associated with the nearby downtown hospital, the flagship academic hospital of the 13-hospitals University of Maryland Medical System. Specialty groups will move from both downtown and UMMC Midtown, rebranded from Maryland General Hospital eight years ago.
“We are designed to double capacity,” she said. “And we expect to see people new to the University of Maryland Medical Center but attracted to the specialists of the medical center.”
The new building has been years in the planning, on the site of the old Maryland General School of Nursing that closed in the 1980s. Work on it continued even as the coronavirus pandemic challenged construction schedules and also led to some changes in spaces, such as more rooms suitable for those with infectious diseases.
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Munir said the diabetes center was moved to the second floor of the Midtown hospital building from downtown several years ago and staff has been waiting for the new, larger space that will include bays to infuse insulin or fluids now often given in the emergency room.
“They are a little bit sicker but not quite sick enough to need the emergency department,” he said. “About 90% of people in the emergency room can be managed in a room like this.”
Munir said not only will patients get that urgent care, but specialists will be able to immediately recalibrate medications and provide other care not available in the emergency room. The patients also will not have to wait behind car crash and heart attack victims.
Jonathan P. Weiner, a Johns Hopkins University professor of health policy and management, said the University of Maryland Medical Center is certainly following a trend.
“Nationally, over the last two decades there has been significant growth in ambulatory care every year,” he said. “In the next few years, U.S. hospitals are expecting more revenue from outpatient care than they are from in-patient care.”
But he also noted that Maryland hospitals have extra reason to redirect patients to preventive care. Their rates and budgets are regulated under a unique agreement with federal authorities that affords them extra income when they keep people healthy and out of hospital beds.
“In Maryland, with our rate-setting commission, there are additional incentives to provide lower-cost care outside of hospitals, instead of admitting a patient,” Weiner said. “So this new facility makes sense from that perspective as well.”
Renay Tyler's name was mispelled in a photo cultine on this article. The Sun regrets the error.