Maryland state health workers' move from flooded office space may be too far for some

The Maryland Department of Health office responsible for the safety of hospitals and other health care facilities plans to move from its building in Catonsville that was badly damaged by flooding earlier this year.

State officials said no lease has been signed for the Office of Health Care Quality, but the department head wrote in a message to workers that they would be headed to Columbia — a move that would improve the office space but create a new commuting problem for some of the nearly 200 workers.

"A new location has been selected for the relocation of OHCQ,” wrote Dr. Tricia Nay, the office’s executive director, in a recent message to staff. “The site is in Columbia, Maryland in the Columbia Gateway Business Park. We continue to work very closely with the Department of General Services and MDH’s Capital Planning Office to expedite the relocation. We anticipate more details will be forthcoming in the next week or two, including the anticipated date of the move.”

The office handles licensing and regulation of 14,000 health care facilities and community-based programs around the state, but found itself in somewhat unhealthy working conditions after severe storms in May, the same ones that ruined parts of historic Ellicott City.

Dozens of workers in the Bland Bryant building, part of the Spring Grove Medical Center campus in Catonsville, were moved to undamaged parts of the 1930s-era building.

The health department went through an emergency procurement process and hired four contractors including a water remediation company, a general contractor, a roofing contractor, and a separate contractor to assess the entire building and make recommendations for renovations. Clean up included carpet cleaning or removal, and fanning of other areas.

The department has worked to make repairs to the building, said Brittany Fowler, a health department spokeswoman.

Nonetheless, the department decided to move the workers. The Columbia office park is about 12 miles away from the Catonsville office.

“The Office of Health Care Quality is in the process of finalizing a new office location for 197 employees,” Fowler said in an email to The Baltimore Sun. “The Maryland Department of Health has worked closely with the Department of General Services and MDH’s Capital Planning Office on the search to identify the most suitable space. Many aspects were taken into consideration during the search process, including location, cost, the ability of the space to meet OHCQ’s needs, and minimizing change to employee’s daily schedules.”

Since there is no lease, she declined to comment further.

A spokeswoman for AFSCME Maryland, a union representing some of workers in the state agency, said many state health offices are in disrepair and union officials were pleased the workers would get new space. But Katie Moy-Santos said a move to Columbia would be a hardship for those workers who rely on public transportation.

The union wants some accommodation, such as alternative work space or telecommuting, considering the importance of the office’s work.

“We were originally told the move would be in Catonsville and management recently came back and said the location would be in Columbia,” she said. “Some people may not be able to make the move.”

meredith.cohn@baltsun.com

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