A preliminary site plan for a new, $75 million combined medical center and behavioral health facility was approved unanimously by the Aberdeen City Council Monday night.
If the plan proposed by University of Maryland Upper Chesapeake Health is approved by the Maryland Health Care Commission, construction on two new buildings and modifications to the existing building could begin by next fall, Robin Luxon, senior vice president of corporate planning, marketing and business development, told members of the council during a review of the site plan.
“It depends on the Maryland Health Care Commission,” Luxon said.
Upper Chesapeake must first get confirmation from the hospital’s board of directors and then plans to refile its application with the commission by November, she said.
“Obviously we’re very excited about the project and the value we feel it will bring to Aberdeen,” Luxon said.
The project — the existing building on-site as well as two new ones — replaces the plan that was submitted to the MHC as part of Upper Chesapeake’s Vision 2020, which included building a freestanding medical facility and behavioral health center on Bulle Rock Parkway in Havre de Grace and closing Harford Memorial Hospital. The proposal also included expanding Upper Chesapeake Medical Center in Bel Air, which is still part of the project.
While Upper Chesapeake officials say the project was stalled at the city government level in Havre de Grace, it moved quickly through the approval process in Aberdeen, where the plan was first discussed this summer.
The Aberdeen Planning Commission reviewed and recommended approval of changes to city ordinances regarding height restrictions and helipads within city limits. The council approved the changes and on Oct. 10, the planning commission recommended approval of the preliminary site plan.
“I’m relieved,” Lyle Sheldon, president and CEO of University of Maryland Upper Chesapeake Health, said after the council gave its approval. “We now have an approved site plan that potentially we can move forward on if that’s the board’s desire.”
The existing 95,870-square-foot building on the site will be used for medical offices, according to Paul Muddiman, of Morris & Ritchie Associates in Bel Air.
A 125,000-square-foot, two- and three-story building will be built to house the freestanding medical facility and will connect to the existing building by a raised walkway.
A third building — two-stories and 15,400 square feet — will be along Route 22.
Both will be built to complement the existing building.
The service area and emergency entrance will be to the rear of the building, screened by a 12-foot high fence. An 8-foot fence will also be built along the east side of the property along Graceford Drive for screening and security purposes, Muddiman said.
Access to the buildings will be on McHenry Road, which runs behind Target, from Middleton Road or from Route 22, where a right-in, right-out access will be built, he said.
To alleviate some of the concerns raised about traffic on Middleton Road, Upper Chesapeake plans to create a middle turn lane on Middleton, which will allow through traffic to continue moving.
Construction will take about 18 months and generate 1,150 jobs, Luxon said. About 500 team members will work at the facility once it’s complete.
The helipad will be built to the rear of the new building, Muddiman said, “as far away from Graceford [Drive] as possible,” Phil Crocker, project manager at Upper Chesapeake Health.
The flight path in is across the back of Target, the path out is over a more industrial to the south of the project site, Crocker said, “placed purposefully away from non-residential areas.”
The worst-case estimate of a helicopter’s visit to the facility would be five to six minutes, Crocker said — a typical helicopter is typically in within 60 to 90 seconds, rests for two minutes to cool down and is out after a start of 60 seconds and then exits.
An average of one flight per day comes in and out of Upper Chesapeake Medical Center in Bel Air, he said. One per week is in the evening hours, between 10 p.m. and 6:59 a.m.
Crocker said he anticipates more people will be taking patients from the new facility rather than bringing them in.
The freestanding medical facility will house 20 emergency room beds and five behavioral health emergency beds, Luxon said. It will be on the first floor of the new building.
“The emergency department will be a 24/7 emergency and our expectation is that we’ll be able to deliver the same level of care that we do now at Harford Memorial,” Luxon said. “There will be decisions EMS make based on protocol, but our intention is to offer nearly the same services that we do at Harford Memorial.”
“Observation care is often confusing to individuals, but it is the delivery of care for medical stays,” she said. A stay could be up to 48 hours or even longer.
The behavioral health component, which falls under a license separate from the freestanding medical facility, will include 40 beds, Luxon said. It will be on the second floor of the new building with a separate entrance from the freestanding medical facility.
“Our intention is to be able to offer as many scope of services to the community as we can,” she said.
Ultimately, she said, it’s up to the state to determine how many beds each facility — the freestanding medical facility and behavioral health facility — will have.
In the existing building will be ambulatory services, outpatient behavioral health care as a continuum of the inpatient care and outpatient services including anti-coagulation, imaging, laboratory services and rehabilitation services, Luxon said.
Among the list of physician specialty practices at Harford Memorial that could move to the new facility include cardiology, hematology/oncology, endocrinology, neurolgoy, orthopedics and spine, pain management.
“That’s our current list, but it’s certainly not a comprehensive list,” Luxon said, adding the intent is to add a comprehensive array of services that the community needs.
In addition to Upper Chesapeake practices, Luxon said the health organization also expects a number of independent practices to move into the building.
A variety of people were on-hand for Monday’s meeting, during which only Aberdeen Mayor Patrick McGrady asked any questions.
In addition to Sheldon, several members of the UCH board and foundation board attended, as did the medical director of the health system.
Aberdeen Planning Commission Chairman Mark Schlottman reiterated his group’s support for the project, as did Tom Fidler, a vice president of Mackenzie Commercial Real Estate, chair of the city’s Economic Development Commission and 18-year member of the Upper Chesapeake Health Foundation board of directors.
“I have seen first-hand the importance of a suburban hospital system, I have seen first-hand the remarkable revitalization these things have caused to occur,” Fidler said. “I strongly encourage that support, because Aberdeen is on the cusp of great things. And the good stuff is just starting to begin.”