Howard County General Hospital's unusual step of planning its next expansion even before its current construction project is finished should not be construed as a sign of desperation. Rapid changes in health care and its delivery are driving the hospital's latest move to propose a four-story expansion to the three-story building currently under construction on hospital grounds in Columbia.
Hospital officials have decided the only way to compete effectively with physicians who are performing ambulatory surgeries in their offices is to offer state-of-the-art facilities. Since it is expected that the yet-to-be-completed building will fill up shortly after opening, the decision to expand the outpatient services building shows a great deal of foresight.
Howard General's sound financial management makes the hospital's ambitious expansion plans possible. The non-profit hospital's budget this year topped $76 million, of which $12.5 million is being pumped into renovations and expansion. Founded under meager circumstances in 1973, the hospital has grown from a 59-bed unit providing in-patient support for Columbia Medical Plan to a comprehensive regional hospital with 233 beds and 1,300 employees. Its last major expansion was in 1989, when 30 beds were added.
Since then, the hospital has added a magnetic resonance imaging center and, in cooperation with the University of Maryland Medical System, has opened a regional oncology facility adjacent to the hospital in Columbia.
The shift in health care to outpatient services has compelled the hospital to start planning another expansion immediately. Hospital officials aren't certain of all that will be housed in the larger facility, even though it is seeking county approval for its site plans now. A major concern will be the height of the proposed building, which as planned would be 11 feet higher than the county limit.
Given what a valuable asset the hospital has become to the county, there will be a natural tendency to want to grant it this zoning exception. Even so, the expansion should only be done after careful consideration of its impact on the surrounding community.
Howard General is a vital part of the community, as evidenced by its ability to continue growing in a rapidly changing market.