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Havre de Grace leaders note ER delays, prospect of coronavirus in making case to keep Harford Memorial Hospital open

Havre de Grace’s mayor has written to Gov. Larry Hogan, asking the governor to issue an executive order barring any hospitals in Maryland — including Harford Memorial — from being closed until the coronavirus ourbreak has passed.

“Until we are well clear, at least, of any looming virus such as coronavirus, it would be a fool’s move to do such a thing,” Mayor William T. Martin said during a meeting of the City Council Monday evening.

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The mayor’s request comes as city leaders continue their push against University of Maryland Upper Chesapeake Health’s plan to close Harford Memorial Hospital in Havre de Grace — one of two hospitals the health system operates in Harford County — and open a free-standing medical center in Aberdeen and expand the number of beds at UCH’s second hospital, Upper Chesapeake Medical Center in Bel Air.

Residents, public safety officials and elected leaders in Harford Memorial’s service area, which includes western Cecil County, have protested the proposed closing of the hospital, which has been in downtown Havre de Grace for more than 100 years.

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Upper Chesapeake Health officials announced their plans to consolidate medical services in Harford County in early 2016. The free-standing medical center, which was initially planned for land the health system owns near the Bulle Rock community in Havre de Grace, will have a full-service emergency room as well as beds for patients staying in the hospital for a short time and multiple other medical services.

Officials with UCH also plan to build a psychiatric facility on the Aberdeen campus — the Merritt Properties office property off of Route 22 — where patients can receive inpatient and outpatient mental health services.

Beds for medical and surgical patients at Harford Memorial will be consolidated with medical and surgical beds at the Bel Air hospital in a “bed tower” built on top of the Kaufman Cancer Center, according to the project website.

More information about the Aberdeen campus is online at the “Your Health. Our Mission” website.

The mayor and David Glenn, the City Council president, took issue with the planned consolidation of medical services, though.

The mayor cited data Monday showing how often the emergency rooms at Harford Memorial and Upper Chesapeake Medical Center do not have beds available for patients, or patients must be rerouted to other hospitals, because the ERs are dealing with more patients than they can handle with their resources at hand. The data comes from the Maryland Institute of Emergency Medical Services System's County/Hospital Alert Tracking System, or CHATS.

The data set Martin showed covered a, eight-month period from July 1, 2019 to Feb. 28, 2020, and the mayor discussed when the Upper Chesapeake ERs were in “yellow alert,” “red alert” or “reroute” status.

Yellow alert means emergency department administrators have issued a temporary request that their department “receive absolutely no patients in need of urgent medical care” because of a “temporary overwhelming overload."

Red alert means the hospital has no available beds in which medical staff can conduct cardiac monitoring of patients. Reroute means an ambulance unit must be held at an emergency department because hospital beds are not available, according to MIEMSS.

Harford Memorial Hospital was on yellow alert 61 times, on red alert 25 times and had to reroute patients 28 times, for a total of 892.44 hours over the eight-month period. Upper Chesapeake Medical Center went to yellow alert 114 times, red alert 25 times and reroute 195 times, for a total of 2,441.45 hours over the same period, according to the MIEMSS data.

“This is not a Havre de Grace problem,” Martin said. “This is a Harford County, Cecil County problem.”

The mayor noted Upper Chesapeake Medical has had many more alerts and reroutes than Harford Memorial, meaning people who live near the hospital in Bel Air risk being sent to another hospital if their local ER is overwhelmed.

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“I don’t care if you live in Fallston, Edgewood, Bel Air, this involves everybody,” Martin said.

Glenn, the council president, thanked Martin for his letter to the governor. He said he and other council members check CHATS, which is online, on a regular basis, and they can see when hospitals in Harford, and other parts of the state, have red or yellow alerts or must reroute patients.

A check of CHATS Tuesday evening showed Upper Chesapeake Medical Center in yellow alert and reroute status. A number of other hospitals in the Baltimore-Washington, D.C., region also were on yellow alert, though, such as MedStar Franklin Square Medical Center in Baltimore County, Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center and Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore City, as well as University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore.

“What that means is, you have a saturated system,” Glenn said of the alerts. “And what makes a saturated system even worse is when you have an epidemic like coronavirus or the flu.”

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