Construction is slated to begin this fall on Upper Chesapeake Health’s free-standing medical center in Aberdeen, as well as the health system’s planned expansion of Upper Chesapeake Medical Center in Bel Air, the organization’s leaders announced this week.
University of Maryland Upper Chesapeake Health is also working with global commercial real estate firm Cushman & Wakefield to begin marketing and ultimately sell Harford Memorial Hospital in Havre de Grace.
Harford Memorial is slated to close once the health system’s new free-standing medical center and special psychiatric hospital open in Aberdeen in the spring of 2023. Officials with the nonprofit Harford County health system are preparing for a virtual ground-breaking ceremony expected to happen in November.
The expansion of the Bel Air hospital, a three-story bed tower, also is expected to open in 2023 — the new facilities also are being designed with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic in mind, according to UCH officials.
The announcement comes 25 years after Upper Chesapeake Health submitted its application to the state to build Upper Chesapeake Medical Center, said Lyle Sheldon, UCH’s president and CEO.
“Twenty-five years later, and we’re talking about another transformational event in health care in Harford County,” Sheldon remarked.
The health system made its formal submission to the state, seeking approval to build a new hospital at Route 24 and MacPhail Road, in the fall of 1995. The $60.6 million, 225,000 square-foot Bel Air hospital, meant to replace Fallston General Hospital, opened five years later in late October of 2000.
Upper Chesapeake received approval from the Maryland Health Care Commission this spring to close Harford Memorial and consolidate its medical and surgical beds with existing beds at Upper Chesapeake Medical Center.
State officials also approved UCH’s applications to build the free-standing medical center, with a full-service emergency room, and the 33-bed psychiatric hospital on the Merritt Properties corporate campus off of Route 22 in Aberdeen, during the health care commission’s meeting in mid-April.
The special psychiatric hospital, which is meant to address the growing need for mental health services in Harford and western Cecil County, is being designed with extra space to accommodate seven more beds if needed. Inpatient and outpatient behavioral health services will be provided at the facility, according to UCH’s Your Health. Our Mission web page on the overall project, which the health system announced in early 2016.
People can visit the Your Health. Our Mission site, as well as Upper Chesapeake Health social media pages, for updates on the project. The Aberdeen campus at 650 McHenry Road is seeing use this year, as UCH is operating a COVID-19 testing facility on the grounds.
Testing for people age 5 and older is available free of charge; patients should register for an appointment online at https://crispcovid19.powerappsportals.com/new-patient.
“It’s another way we want to continue to be an integral part of health care delivery and taking care of our patients here in Harford County,” Sheldon said.
The new facilities will be designed with features to help prevent the spread of infectious diseases, such as “touchless” doors and bathroom and laboratory fixtures and negative-pressure rooms with regulated airflow to better isolate patients who have contagious diseases or are vulnerable to contagious disease, according to UCH spokesperson Martha Mallonee.
The new three-story bed tower in Bel Air, which will be built on top of the Kaufman Cancer Center, will be designed so the fourth story is a “cohort floor” for patients with similar conditions and the fifth story can be converted to serve as an intensive care unit if needed. The fourth and fifth stories will be “negative pressure ready." The third story of the building will serve as shell space for expanding the cancer center, according to Mallonee.
‘Highest and best use’
The closing of Harford Memorial, a fixture in downtown Havre de Grace for decades, has been controversial among city residents and elected officials who represent the city and surrounding area, as they are concerned about the loss of local health care services and the economic impact in the downtown area.
Cushman & Wakefield was hired by Upper Chesapeake Health about four years ago and was initially charged with conducting a “highest and best use study and analysis” of Harford Memorial’s existing attributes and how the site could best be redeveloped, according to David Baird, the Baltimore-based managing director of the firm’s strategic advisory services team.
Baird, along with Sheldon and Leonard Parrish, director of community and economic development for Harford County, testified before the Maryland House of Delegates' Health & Government Operations Committee in early March.
Parrish said, during the hearing, that the county is “fully supportive” of Upper Chesapeake proceeding with its new Aberdeen facilities and celebrates “the $13 million in wages that will be created by that and $39.5 million in capital investment that’s going to be a part of that transition” from Harford Memorial.
Democratic Dels. Steve Johnson and Mary Ann Lisanti, whose district includes Havre de Grace and Aberdeen, sponsored a bill during the General Assembly’s 2020 legislative session — which adjourned early because of the pandemic — regarding public notification when a hospital is closed or partially closed.
Johnson, who is a member of the health and government operations committee, expressed concern during the March 2 hearing that closing Harford Memorial could have a major impact on businesses in the surrounding neighborhood, plus it could affect city utility revenues with the loss of such a large water and sewer customer.
“While one community is going to benefit, the whole point is, we don’t want another community to suffer,” Johnson said of Aberdeen and Havre de Grace — he and Lisanti reiterated those concerns while giving a legislative update to the Havre de Grace mayor and City Council last month.
Baird, in response to Johnson’s concerns, said the economic impact of redeveloping the hospital site “would be shifted,” because “the highest and most appropriate reuse of the property would be for a residential town center to fill that gap, which would create additional retail and service and commercial jobs, in addition to the construction jobs.”
Sheldon acknowledged during the hearing community members' concerns about closing the hospital.
“Upper Chesapeake Health leadership and the board have and will continue to be working collaboratively with the City of Havre de Grace, as well as community representatives on our community relations council as it relates to the future reuse of Harford Memorial Hospital,” he told legislators.
Sheldon, along with Bryan E. Kelly, chairman of UCH’s board of directors, highlighted Harford Memorial’s significance to the community Monday — Kelly noted he was born at that hospital in 1970, and Sheldon said two of his children were born there.
“We have an engaged community board around this whole transformation that’s happening in our world,” Kelly said.
Sheldon said the hospital “and the caregivers there have a very, very close affection in my heart as well, and as we make this transition, we want to honor the past and respect the past.”