It's likely to be September before the organization that runs Harford County's two hospitals submits its final proposal to state regulators for a new $60 million hospital in Bel Air, Upper Chesapeake Health System officials said.
Meanwhile, the organization's new community relations coordinator, former County Councilman Philip J. Barker, is trying to win community support for Upper Chesapeake's plan to replace Fallston General with a new facility in Bel Air and reduce Harford Memorial's operations in Havre de Grace.
Mr. Barker said he has been attending meetings of homeowner associations and other community groups throughout the county since he took the part-time position in April.
His job, he said, is to find out county residents' opinions about health care and to tell them what they can expect under the planned consolidation of services.
Mr. Barker has sought to convince people that Harford Memorial, the 84-year-old Havre de Grace hospital that serves residents of western Cecil County as well as Harford residents, will remain open and active.
"We want to reinforce with Cecil County that we are there to serve them, too," he said.
He said that many residents of Perryville, Rising Sun and Elkton rely on Harford Memorial as their community hospital, "and we would like to continue to serve them."
Allan Acton, Upper Chesapeake vice president for marketing, planning and system development, also insisted that Harford Memorial would not close, even after a new hospital is opened.
"There are definitely no plans to close it," he said last week. "It generates $40 million a year in revenues and is an essential provider of services in Harford County."
The hospital recently underwent$2.5 million in improvements, including a new 25-bed psychiatric wing and updated intensive care and progressive care units.
Upper Chesapeake's first proposal for consolidation, submitted to the Maryland Health Resources Planning Commission last summer, sought to reduce the number of beds at Harford Memorial from 275 to 100 and replace Fallston with a new hospital on the Route 24 corridor near Bel Air.
The proposal called for moving the obstetrics and pediatrics units from Harford Memorial to the new hospital, a plan that met with immediate opposition from the Havre De Grace medical and residential community.
Upper Chesapeake was seeking an exemption from filing for a Certificate of Need for the consolidation project. The state denied the exemption in December and said the medical management group must not only go through the certification process but must specify the location of the new hospital before filing another proposal.
In April, Upper Chesapeake settled on a location on Route 24 and MacPhail Road in Bel Air. The fate of the Fallston building still is unclear, and the number of Harford Memorial beds in the new proposal is undecided, Mr. Acton said.
Mr. Barker said he expects "town meetings" to be held in Bel Air and Havre de Grace when the proposal is ready.
He said the plan also would be reviewed with Havre de Grace officials and those of Perryville, Port Deposit and Rising Sun in Cecil County.
In the meantime, Mr. Barker said, some residents remain concerned over the possible transfer of obstetric services.
"But the main concern with the transfer of any unit is to put it where the people are that will use it," he said. "The Route 24 area is where the majority of people of the age to have babies live, so maybe that's where the unit should be."