Liberty inpatient care going to Bon Secours; Switch wins final OK; 275 jobs to be lost; clinic role to expand


State health planners approved a proposal yesterday to end inpatient care at Liberty Medical Center by transferring those services to Bon Secours Hospital, three miles away.

Liberty will continue to operate outpatient services, an emergency room and doctors' offices, while adding dialysis services, adult day care and low-income housing for seniors.

When Liberty shuts its inpatient beds, expected Aug. 31, it will cost about 275 jobs and save more than $30 million over the next five years, the planners said.

Before giving unanimous backing for the inpatient shutdown, state Health Resources Planning Commission members restricted their questions to the job losses.

"Every time we go through this, we face the same basic dilemma," said one commissioner, Dr. Marvin Schneider.

While the system needs to shut down excess beds -- planners say there are about 2,300 excess beds in Baltimore alone -- "There's no way it can happen without impacting employees," Schneider said.

Jane Durney Crowley, chief executive officer of Bon Secours Baltimore Health System, which owns both hospitals, said efforts were under way to find jobs for laid-off workers at Liberty or Bon Secours.

The two unions representing about 300 of Liberty's 650 employees had asked the planning commission to take more time to study the closing before acting.

"This process is probably appropriate in the long run," said Larry Grosser, executive director of the Professional Staff Nurses Association. "But we need more time to investigate it. It needs to be done right."

Bob Moore, president of local 1199E-DC of the Service Employees International Union, also called for more review.

The planning commission's staff, however, said the Liberty proposal met the legal criteria for a closing: namely, to improve efficiency while not limiting access to health care.

Nearly 90 percent of the patients in Liberty's service area are choosing other hospitals for inpatient care, said Susan Panek, the staff member who presented the review. "That's a stark fact, but it indicates that access to acute services will not be compromised."

Of the people served on the Liberty campus each day, fewer than 10 percent are admitted as inpatients, the staff report found.

About 45 percent visit Liberty's Urban Medical Institute, which offers patient education and disease management programs, while another third receive outpatient psychiatric services.

Although licensed for 282 beds, Liberty has been averaging 88 in- patients a day. The planners' report said about 20 hospitals are within half an hour's drive of the Liberty campus at 2600 Liberty Heights Ave., near Mondawmin Mall.

Bon Secours, licensed for 208 beds, has 79 patients on an average day.

Under the plan approved yesterday, Liberty's medical-surgical patients will be placed in existing beds at Bon Secours. But 42 psychiatric beds at Liberty are to be added to the beds at Bon Secours.

Liberty was created by the 1986 merger of Provident Hospital -- the city's African-American-run hospital -- and Lutheran Hospital. Lutheran's building was closed after the merger.

Financially troubled Liberty merged into the Bon Secours system in 1996. Bon Secours Hospital, at 2000 West Baltimore St., opened in 1921, operated by the Sisters of Bon Secours (French for "good help"). The order came to Baltimore in 1881 to provide home nursing care.

With more care shifting from inpatient treatment to outpatient, Crowley said, it no longer made sense for Bon Secours to maintain two acute hospitals.

As to which would close, she said, it would cost less than $3 million upgrade the recently renovated Bon Secours to handle all services. In contrast, she told the planners, updating Liberty would cost more than $20 million.

Liberty would be the fifth Maryland hospital to close under state rules adopted 13 years ago. The others were: Frostburg Community; Leland Memorial in Riverdale, Prince George's County; and North Charles General and the former U.S. Public Health Service Hospital at Wyman Park, both in Baltimore.

The state planners are scheduled to act next month on closing inpatient services at New Children's Hospital in Baltimore. The commission will hold a public hearing on the New Children's proposal Feb. 18.

Pub Date: 2/10/99

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