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The Vision 2020 fiasco [Editorial]

The Maryland Health Care Commission’s decision to stop reviewing the University of Maryland Upper Chesapeake Health’s applications for a new specialty psychiatric hospital and a free-standing medical center is a logical step given the recent turmoil into which the plan has fallen.

The review process hasn’t been scrapped altogether, an official with the state agency that oversees major health care facilities development told The Aegis last week, but that could happen, depending on what Upper Chesapeake officials do going forward.

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Meanwhile, the Harford County based health care organization is presumably scrambling to save some semblance of Vision 2020 by looking to build the proposed new facilities in Aberdeen, rather than Havre de Grace as was the original plan, the stated reason being that Havre de Grace city officials haven’t been as accommodating as Upper Chesapeake believed would be the case.

Buying and developing a site in Aberdeen, where city officials have so far been generally receptive, would still entail considerable cost to Upper Chesapeake and, ultimately, to the thousands of residents in Harford County and, to a lesser degree in Cecil and Baltimore counties, who depend on Upper Chesapeake facilities for many of their health care needs. Not only will the organization need to purchase another site, but it will also encounter more delays in getting Vision 2020 off the ground.

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On one hand, buying a site in Aberdeen would have a negligible cost in the long run, assuming the 97-acre site Upper Chesapeake already owns near Interstate 95 and Route 155 in Havre de Grace’s Bulle Rock community can be sold for some sort of future commercial development.

Conflicts between Upper Chesapeake Health and the City of Havre de Grace, the search for a possible new site for a free-standing medical facility and special psych hospital and a request to send a modified application have caused delays in the state's approval process of the UCH Vision 200 project.

The delay factor poses another set of issues, however, that may not be so easily resolved. The Vision 2020 plan comes with a $100 million-plus price tag. Had the plan proceeded according to Upper Chesapeake’s original timetable, borrowing for the project would likely have either already taken place, or at least have been scheduled. Interest rates are rising and are likely to continue increasing, which makes Vision 2020 more costly, notwithstanding the cost of buying an Aberdeen site. Moreover, health care needs, as well as federal and state regulations, continue to change, as does both the size and demographics of the market Upper Chesapeake services.

Who’s to say, for instance, that in two to five years the main Upper Chesapeake campus in Bel Air won’t be overcrowded to the point where it can’t accommodate increased demand for the acute services Upper Chesapeake wants to concentrate at this location to facilitate the closing of Harford Memorial Hospital in Havre de Grace. And, are Aberdeen city officials sure they understand what they may be getting into if they welcome Upper Chesapeake without doing the same due diligence about Vision 2020 that Havre de Grace residents and officials have done?

The City of Aberdeen is poised Monday to pave the way for Upper Chesapeake Health to locate a new medical facility in a vacant building in Aberdeen and abandon its site in Havre de Grace, where the project has been “seriously stalled.”

Many legitimate questions were raised about Vision 2020 by Havre de Grace city officials and residents, not the least of them being the security of the proposed psychiatric hospital, the sharing of infrastructure costs and traffic management. What may at first flush look like a good deal for Aberdeen, might not prove to be so in the end – think Presbyterian Home from the early part of this decade, or the city’s recent actions regarding Ripken Stadium’s management, which both turned out to be fiascos in their own right.

We’ve said from day one that whatever Upper Chesapeake does should be in the best interests of Harford County residents and those living in the rest of its market. As Vision 2020 has stalled, a number of its flaws have come to light. Nobody should proceed blindly in trying to salvage something that may not be salvageable at this point because, in the end, nobody will benefit, not Upper Chesapeake and certainly not the people the organization purportedly serves.

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