MedStar to open medical campus in Bel Air

MedStar Health plans to build a $30 million medical plaza in Bel Air as it tries to capitalize on the area's growing population, company officials said Monday.

The hospital operator also said it plans to expand the neonatal intensive care unit at its Franklin Square Hospital Center in eastern Baltimore County.


The addition of the 100,000-square-foot medical plaza at Plum Tree Road and Route 924 in a growing commercial area of Bel Air in Harford County would offer patients a variety of medical services in one venue.

MedStar has 40 doctors in the county, but they operate from many different locations. The new facility, slated to open in 2014, would make room for 20 new physicians.

"We have a number of different locations and medical offices, but we decided that everybody should be under one roof so there is a single patient experience," said Jean Hitchcock, MedStar vice president of public affairs and marketing.

The planned medical facility is part of a growing trend by hospitals to operate satellite campuses as the way health care is delivered continues to change. More patients are visiting walk-in urgent care centers for treatment, and surgeries that once required overnight stays are being performed as outpatient procedures.

"Health care is moving out of the hospital," Hitchcock said. "Everything that you and I know that was done in a hospital when we were young has pretty much gone outpatient."

One analyst said hospitals are also looking for ways to diversify their business because of the uncertainty about what role hospitals will play under federal health care reform, which will be implemented fully in 2014.

"You're going to see hospitals do a number of things to continue to better adapt to the community in order to maintain their financial footing," said Thomas A. Carroll, managing director at Stifel Nicolaus.

MedStar's planned Harford County campus would offer services that include outpatient surgery, orthopedics, cardiology, sports medicine, weight-loss surgery, cancer care and rehabilitation. Hitchcock said patients would no longer have to drive to its Baltimore for certain procedures.

MedStar doctors treated 3,300 Harford County residents last year.

The medical company also said Monday it is launching a $4 million capital campaign to raise money to modernize its neonatal intensive care unit at Franklin Square. The campaign called "tiny feet. tiny hands. BIG HEARTS" already has raised nearly $1.7 million.

The NICU would be expanded from 1,850 square feet to 7,985 square feet and feature 22 private rooms. The rooms would provide natural light to help with babies' sensory development and better air handling capabilities. The upgrades also would improve infection control, MedStar said.

Nearly 2,600 babies are born at Franklin Square each year and more than 300 are admitted to the NICU. The current unit was built in 1989 and has an open-area style with no walls or dividers between patient areas.