Views mixed on plan to end inpatient care at Liberty; 275 to lose jobs if state lets Bon Secours have Liberty's bed patients


Employees and neighbors challenged a plan last night to halt inpatient care at Liberty Medical Center.

The plan, which includes new services at Liberty, also drew support from community representatives at a hearing by the Health Resources Planning Commission.

The state agency is scheduled to decide next month whether to permit Liberty to end inpatient care or to defer a decision and conduct a fuller review.

Liberty would retain outpatient care and an emergency room, but the rest of its campus at 2600 Liberty Heights Ave. is slated to be used for housing for the elderly and doctors' offices.

The closing was proposed by Bon Secours Baltimore Health System, which absorbed Liberty in 1996. The system wants to consolidate inpatient care at its other hospital, Bon Secours, at 2000 West Baltimore St., which is less than three miles from Liberty.

Margie Thomas, president of the Liberty Square Neighborhood Association, said "the changes are needed because health care is changing," and they would keep Liberty "strong and alive."

But Richard Hill, a plant operations worker at Liberty, said the hospital had needed Bon Secours as a partner because of financial problems, but, "the partner is burying us. I think we were manipulated."

Larry Grosser, executive director of the Professional Staff Nurses Association, which represents about 150 nurses at Liberty, said: "Bon Secours is the beneficiary of this closing, not the patients." The changes will shift significant revenue to Bon Secours, he said.

Tanya Deshields, a nurse in the psychiatric unit at Liberty, said the change "will result in chaos for very troubled patients" who would have to be transferred to Bon Secours.

"If Liberty closed, it would have a devastating effect on the community," said Craig Alston, vice president of the McCulloh Neighborhood Association, who said his grandmother's life had been saved at Liberty.

And several speakers spoke of the importance of maintaining the tradition of Liberty, successor to Provident Hospital, the city's only African-American-run hospital.

But Jane Durney Crowley, chief executive officer of Bon Secours Baltimore, said, "It is not economically viable, or needed by the community, to continue to operate two acute-care hospitals."

Liberty, licensed for 282 beds, averaged 88 daily patients in the fiscal year that ended June 30. Bon Secours, licensed for 208 beds, averaged 79 in the same period.

By combining inpatient services at Bon Secours, she said, the system could free money and staff to deal with unmet health needs, such as senior care and more outpatient services for the elderly, women and children.

State Sen. Clarence M. Mitchell IV, a Baltimore Democrat, said the plan to change services at Liberty "recognized the needs of a more elderly demographic group" and "the communities affected by this plan are supportive of it."

Calvin Pierson, president of the Maryland Hospital Association, said: "Liberty Medical Center will not close as a hospital. Additional services will be added to what's there."

He said closing some inpatient beds in Maryland is needed, since the number of patient days in the state had dropped 25 percent over the past five years, with shorter hospital stays and more outpatient care.

The consolidation, slated to take place in August or September, would eliminate about 275 of 650 jobs and reduce health costs by $85 million over five years, according to an estimate by Bon Secours Baltimore Health System.

Pamela Barclay, acting executive director of the health planning commission, said the regulators will consider whether the Liberty proposal is consistent with the state health plan and whether it is in the public interest.

The health plan in general favors reducing the number of inpatient beds. Barclay said there are about 4,000 acute-care beds licensed in Baltimore, but that about 2,200 are not needed.

Conducting a full review before rendering a decision, Barclay said, would take up to three months.

Grosser said the unions hope the commission seeks a full review, or defers the question to a hospital-closing commission the state may create.

Pub Date: 1/14/99

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