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With Upper Chesapeake Health scaling back on its plans for the new free-standing medical facility and psychiatric hospital in Aberdeen, Havre de Grace needs to address the shortcomings in health care in the community, city councilwoman Carolyn Zinner said last week.

In its application to the Maryland Health Care Commission, University of Maryland Upper Chesapeake Health has reduced the number of observation beds and psychiatric beds at its proposed new facilities at the former vacant Merritt Properties building on Route 22.

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“Upper Chesapeake Health leadership has consistently said they need to finalize plans for the free-standing medical facility before they can focus on marketing the Harford Memorial Hospital site,” in Havre de Grace, Zinner said at the city council meeting Oct. 7. “We need those discussions to start now."

They have been delayed for too long, she said.

“Now it’s time to focus on Harford Memorial and this town and the commitment that Havre de Grace has given to Upper Chesapeake over the past decades ... It’s time for them to step up and support us the way we’ve supported them over the past decades.”

Upper Chesapeake is proposing to reduce the number of psychiatric beds in Aberdeen from 40 to 33. Before discussions ever began about a free-standing medical facility, Upper Chesapeake had discussed moving those beds to Bel Air and save acute care beds in Havre de Grace, Zinner said.

“However that never gained any traction,” she said. “Upper Chesapeake, from the beginning, has continued not to acknowledge the need for acute care beds in Havre de Grace and adjacent communities. In my opinion, that need still exists and the use of observation beds is a problem.”

Those observation beds, which are being reduced from 24 to 17 in Aberdeen with 75 to 77 proposed in Bel Aair, allow for short hospital stays without the umbrella of an acute care facility, she said.

But patients in those observation beds still require care by hospital staff, Zinner said. They are transferred from the emergency department, which has its own problems, and onto an acute care floor, even though they’re not acute care patients.

All of the beds at Harford Memorial are, “in essence,” observation beds, as the default category for patients seen in the emergency department who have to stay for an unspecified amount of time, she said.

“So they’re still using the same resources they use today to staff acute care in order to care for observation patients,” Zinner said. “Reducing the number of [observation beds] to 17 will, in my opinion, not be able to handle the number of patients in this environment.”

The emergency department at Harford Memorial often gets backed up, she said, and the new facility in Aberdeen will need to provide not only additional square footage, but more beds and staff “to make patient care more optimal than it is today.”

Zinner is asking residents in Havre de Grace and the surrounding community to help identify the services that are needed and should be provided at the new Aberdeen facility, including wound care and 3-D mammograms.

“This process has not had the transparency over the years that it needs,” she said. “Plans have changed frequently and the plans for offerings have not been nailed down.”

She suggested requesting legislation from the Harford delegation to have state order an economic impact study on the hospital closing and to consider resubmitted legislation that didn’t go through last year that would cover expenses for retraining employees who will lose their jobs when Harford Memorial closes because they wouldn’t have the same skills as the nursing technicians who would be working at the Aberdeen facility.

“The Upper Chesapeake CEO ends his correspondence with ‘in good health,’” Zinner said. “We’re going to need this once this poorly executed plan is implemented. My statement is to ‘stay healthy.’”

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