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Havre de Grace council member also sits on state hospital licensing board

Havre de Grace City Councilwoman Cassandra Tomarchio says she has recused herself from taking part in any discussions or actions by the Maryland Health Care Commission, on which she also serves, as they relate to closing Harford Memorial Hospital and a plan to replace it.
Havre de Grace City Councilwoman Cassandra Tomarchio says she has recused herself from taking part in any discussions or actions by the Maryland Health Care Commission, on which she also serves, as they relate to closing Harford Memorial Hospital and a plan to replace it. (Courtesy photo/City of Havre de Grace)

Cassandra Tomarchio serves on the Havre de Grace City Council and the Maryland Health Care Commission, but she said she has recused herself from discussions of and voting on the University of Maryland Upper Chesapeake Health’s plans to close her city’s hospital and build a new free-standing medical center in Havre de Grace.

“I think it’s more important for me, in my role in the community, to be involved from a City Council point of view,” Tomarchio said.

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She said she recused herself based on advice from the city attorney and counsel for the Maryland Health Care Commission.

“I will not be part of the discussion, nor the vote on Upper Chesapeake and Harford Memorial [Hospital],” she said Wednesday.

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Earlier this month, Tomarchio was one of five city council members who signed a letter written to the Health Care Commission by Mayor William T. Martin, which expressed opposition to Upper Chesapeake Health’s plans for Havre de Grace.

Tomarchio said she will not consider a recommendation developed by a reviewer, a commission member tasked with reviewing the certificate of need application and bringing a recommendation to the full commission.

The mayor of Havre de Grace says he and a majority of the city council are opposed to having the city’s full service hospital replaced by a scaled down emergency and ambulatory care center.

Tomarchio was appointed to the City Council in November to succeed former Councilman Steve Gamatoria after he was named chief of staff for Mayor William T. Martin.

She said she was appointed to the state commission by Gov. Larry Hogan in 2016. She is one of 15 commissioners, and her term ends Sept. 30, 2019, according to the commission website.

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Upper Chesapeake Health’s $160 million plan, called Vision 2020, is expected to have a major impact on how Harford County’s largest private employer delivers health care in both Harford and western Cecil County. Many Havre de Grace residents and elected leaders have expressed concerns about the effect on local health care and the economy, especially with the closing of Harford Memorial downtown.

“I think the most important thing is, making sure that everyone’s questions are addressed and that there is a level of confidence throughout the whole community that we are making solid plans for our future because what we’re doing today is going to impact generations to come,” Tomarchio said.

Upper Chesapeake Health is seeking state approval to close Harford Memorial, a general hospital that has been part of downtown Havre de Grace for more than a century, open a smaller free-standing medical center on property the health system owns near Bulle Rock and the Route 155/Interstate 95 interchange and consolidate many of its Harford County medical and surgical services in an expanded Upper Chesapeake Medical Center in Bel Air. The goal is to complete the project by late 2020 or early 2021.

“The only way to make sure that we are making sound decisions is by asking the right questions and making sure everybody is comfortable with the answers,” Tomarchio said.

The disposition of Harford Memorial after it closes is her “larger concern,” she said.

“I want to make sure that that property is used in an environmentally sound and community-oriented plan,” Tomarchio said.

Tomarchio and four other council members signed the Feb. 6 letter written by the mayor and sent to the commission laying out the city’s concerns about closing Harford Memorial Hospital and the impact on health care in Havre de Grace and the surrounding area. The sixth council member, Monica Worrell, did not sign it.

“The letter that the mayor sent was asking pretty valid questions,” Tomarchio said.

She said it was her decision to sign it.

“I feel confident that, based on the advice that I had received, that it made sense to participate as a city council person,” Tomarchio said.

Martin wrote that he is convinced a free-standing medical facility “will not adequately serve the needs of the residents of our area as proposed.” He expressed support for “a new small-scale, full-service acute care hospital” as a better replacement for Harford Memorial.

Martin reiterated those concerns during Tuesday’s council meeting, but acknowledged that UCH has the right to develop its property. He said he city would support the project, if the state approves the free-standing medical center.

“I can promise you the City of Havre de Grace will work with Upper Chesapeake, and we’ll do everything we can to make sure it’s successful,” he said.

Worrell said she does not believe Harford County can support two general hospitals, given the state of the health care industry, despite her preference for keeping a general hospital in Havre de Grace.

Worrell said a general hospital would be “my first choice.”

“I have the greatest respect for all of my colleagues, and it was probably the most difficult decision that I’ve had to make in my three years on council to not stand united with them on that letter on a matter that’s so important to our community,” she said.

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