Two of the three hospitals serving Anne Arundel County are studying whether they should merge services, officials for both facilities said yesterday. Anne Arundel Medical Center in Annapolis and North Arundel Hospital inng agreement.
The announcement comes a day after reports surfaced of a possible merger of Helix Health and the Harbor Hospital Center, the third facility serving Anne Arundel.
North Arundel President James R. Walker said yesterday that he had been talking informally with Martin L. Doordan, president of Anne Arundel Medical Center, for the past year and a half about the hospitals' futures.
"We think this collaborative relationship will further enhance our ability to provide health care services," Mr. Walker said.
Neither president would speculate about what kind of joint operation would work best, but both said all options would be considered. When the study is completed, both hospitals will independently evaluate the findings.
The hospitals are about the same size, with approximately 300 beds and 1,800 employees. Last year, each posted about $5 million in profits. Each has facilities the other lacks, however.
Anne Arundel Medical Center, founded in 1902, has a women's center, a maternity ward and a cancer center. North Arundel, built in 1965, has an in-patient psychiatric unit and four primary care outreach centers.
"We try to be good neighbors," Mr. Doordan said.
"We've complemented each other over the years, and there may be ways to enhance that to the community. That's what we're all about."
The county hospitals are doing what medical centers across the state and country already have done. Rising health care costs and the growth of primary care clinics have forced many hospitals to work together, said Nancy Fiedler, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Hospital Association.
"The majority of hospitals probably by the end of the 1990s will have an affiliation or some form of relationship with other institutions," Ms. Fiedler said. "You're going to see a continuation of hospitals, but a need for fewer beds. A large part of the business will be outside the walls of the hospitals."
In the last year, at least 15 of the state's 52 hospitals have formed some kind of joint operation. There are nine multihospital systems in Maryland, Ms. Fiedler said.
Hospitals can work together through a joint venture, in which they buy equipment together or share a lab or center; an affiliation, in which they create loose networks using each other's centers; or a full merger, in which assets are combined.
Ultimately, merged services mean stronger individual hospitals and coordinated care for patients, Ms. Fiedler said.
North Arundel Hospital and Anne Arundel Medical Center have collaborated in the past, agreeing that each would offer services that the other didn't and working together on community programs with the county health and aging departments.