University of Maryland Upper Chesapeake Health will host a community meeting Thursday evening in Havre de Grace, so residents can hear the latest on its Vision 2020 plan that involves significant changes for major health care facilities serving eastern Harford and western Cecil counties.
The $160 million plan involves closing the aging Harford Memorial Hospital in downtown Havre de Grace, opening a new freestanding medical center near the Bulle Rock community and the Route 155/Interstate 95 interchange, plus expanding Upper Chesapeake Medical Center in Bel Air, all by 2020.
The nonprofit health system has made its first filing for regulatory approval with the state, and another filing is scheduled for later this summer, according to its website.
The community meeting is scheduled for 6 to 7:30 p.m. Thursday at the Havre de Grace Library at 120 N. Union Ave. Visitors are invited for what is being called a "casual open session" with Lyle Sheldon, the president and CEO of Upper Chesapeake Health, and the health system's leadership team, according to a notice posted on the UM Upper Chesapeake Health page on Facebook.
"The goal for this open, casual session is similar to an 'open house,'" UCH spokesperson Martha Mallonee wrote in an email Tuesday.
Upper Chesapeake officials announced Vision 2020, which requires an extensive state approvals process, in early 2016.
But after receiving a favorable change in state regulations during the 2016 Maryland General Assembly session, the health system later postponed planned community meetings, scheduled to start in late January 2017, and delayed filing applications for state approvals.
Last winter, Mallonee cited a "complex and time intensive" regulatory process regarding the delay.
Mallonee noted Tuesday that "questions are encouraged" during the meeting. She said organizers will take questions at the door, depending on the size of the crowd, "so Lyle [Sheldon] can answer the most frequently asked first and the rest in the time allowed."
Mallonee said the project "is still tracking for 2020; however, it will be dependent on state regulatory approval timelines."
Ben Martorana, planning director for the City of Havre de Grace, discussed the upcoming meeting during Monday's City Council meeting.
"I think it will be a great opportunity to get up to speed on all these issues but perhaps also to raise some questions as we've learned more over the past year and raise some more detailed questions that we maybe haven't talked about before," he said.
Upper Chesapeake Health completed its merger with with the University of Maryland Medical System in 2013. It is Harford County's largest private employer with about 3,300 employees.
Martorana noted the University of Maryland health system's plan for Harford County comes with an "opportunity and an obligation."
"It provides a very special opportunity and an obligation to take a look at the needs of the community, as to how they can contribute to moving Havre de Grace forward," he said.
Visitors at Thursday's meeting can learn more about plans for the Havre de Grace medical center and ask questions about the overall Vision 2020 plan, according to the Facebook page.
The plan has raised concerns in Havre de Grace and in western Cecil County about the impact closing Harford Memorial will have on patient care, EMS patient transport and on downtown Havre de Grace, where the hospital has been an anchor for more than a century.
Martorana said UCH officials will be available Thursday to answer questions about the progress of their plans and "hopefully" questions about what will happen when Harford Memorial closes.
The Maryland General Assembly approved legislation in 2016 to make the process of closing community hospitals and building free-standing medical centers easier for health systems.
Upper Chesapeake was among the health systems and their advocacy organizations that supported the bill, despite opposition in Annapolis by legislators who supported keeping community hospitals open as well as members of the communities served by those hospitals, such as Havre de Grace and western Cecil County.
"As much as we look forward to a modern health care facility being located still within our city, our primary concern is still going to be the disposition of the old hospital downtown, which still needs to be determined," Havre de Grace Mayor Bill Martin said after Monday's council meeting.
The regulatory approval process is expected to take about one year, followed by two years of construction, according to Upper Chesapeake Health.
Upper Chesapeake Health filed a letter of intent May 23 with the Maryland Health Care Commission for a "Behavioral Health Pavilion/special psychiatric hospital" on the 97-acre Havre de Grace campus, according to an announcement posted on the Vision 2020 project website, http://umuch.org/vision-2020.
It would be one part of the medical center geared toward inpatient mental health care and outpatient medical care. The facility would also have a full-service emergency department, but medical surgical services would be shifted to the expanded Bel Air hospital.
"Our vision is simple — to reshape health care by providing the best possible care to our community," Sheldon, the UCH president and CEO, said in a statement posted on the website. "Vision 2020 encompasses planning for the health care needs of our community, and one of the most pressing needs today and into the future is behavioral health support."
There will be multiple reviews by state officials, as well as public hearings, during the approval process. Upper Chesapeake Health must obtain a certificate of exemption and a certificate of need to open the new medical center, according to the project website.
The certificate of need for the psychiatric specialty hospital is scheduled to be filed in early August, followed by "the additional applications we need to submit," according to Mallonee.
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"Vision 2020 includes all of our planning in both [Havre de Grace] and Bel Air, since we are counting on our planning at both campuses to occur on parallel tracks," she said. "We will continue to engage our community using several focus groups that include business leaders, homeowners' groups, faith-based leaders and our own team members who live in the community."