The theme was “right care, right time and right setting,” as University of Maryland Upper Chesapeake Health officials worked to convince a still-skeptical community Wednesday that sweeping changes proposed to the regional health care system will be beneficial to the area.
Lyle Sheldon, president and CEO of UCH, along with various department heads and those supporting the Vision 2020 project, made that case during a public information forum at Level Fire Hall.
About 85 people attended, said Kim Thompson, a marketing and communications manager for Upper Chesapeake, after the meeting. An earlier meeting which was the second meeting on the Vision 2020 program was held July 20.
The Aug. 30 meeting will be the last one eeting for some time, too. Sheldon said later that “we’ll see what happens” with the state’s approval process before another meeting is scheduled.
Vision 2020 involves closing University of Maryland Harford Memorial Hospital in downtown Havre de Grace, opening a new freestanding medical center near Bulle Rock and the Interstate 95/Route 155 interchange and expanding University of Maryland Upper Chesapeake Medical Center in Bel Air, ideally by 2020.
Sheldon said the health system still expects to occupy the new facilities by late 2020 or early 2021.
The health system must secure state approval to close Harford Memorial and open the new facilities, a process officials expect will take one year.
“It’s contingent on securing those approvals,” Sheldon said of the timetable, first unveiled to the public in early 2016.
A letter of intent was filed in May with the Maryland Health Care Commission, which must approve the new facilities and the existing hospital closure.
Applications were filed with the state in early August to establish a “special psychiatric hospital” on the Bulle Rock property, convert Harford Memorial to a “freestanding medical facility” and consolidate its acute medical surgical beds at Upper Chesapeake Medical Center, according to the project website, http://umuch.org/vision-2020.
Sheldon said they expect to receive regulatory approvals by the summer of 2018 and start preparing the 97-acre Havre de Grace property for construction. He said water and sewer service must be extended to the site, a water tower must be built and the land must be leveled and graded before construction starts on the buildings.
Construction at the Havre de Grace and Bel Air sites would be simultaneous, according to Sheldon, so the buildings could be ready at the same time to ensure a smooth transition of patients and staff.
Plans for Upper Chesapeake Medical Center call for building three stories on top of the two-story Kaufman Cancer Center.
The third floor would be “shell space,” leaving it empty, yet flexible for future needs, and the fourth and fifth floors would contain patient beds, Sheldon said.
Harford Memorial, which has been in downtown Havre de Grace for more than 100 years, would be closed once the new facilities are ready. Upper Chesapeake officials have said the existing hospital would be too costly to renovate to current facilities standards.
The health system has retained the firm Cushman & Wakefield to handle the sale of Harford Memorial property.
Sheldon said any new development on the Union Avenue site should have “sustainable community benefits” and “make good business sense.”
“What we don’t want to do is leave an eyesore for the City of Havre de Grace,” he said.
The new Havre de Grace medical center will include two buildings in the middle of the 97-acre Bulle Rock site, with the rest available for future development.
The first building will be a combined free-standing medical center with a full-service, nearly 20,000 square-foot emergency department, and a secured behavioral health pavilion to provide inpatient and outpatient services for patients with mental health issues. There will be space reserved for treating geriatric behavioral health issues in elderly patients, according to Sheldon.
Dr. Richard Lewis, head of UCH’s psychiatric department, noted there will not be specific substance abuse treatment services at the facility, but medical personnel will treat any substance abuse issues that show up along with a patient’s mental health needs when they arrive at the center.
That is the same procedure in effect at Harford Memorial, he said.
“We will continue to do what we’re doing [now],” Lewis said.
The second structure on the Bulle Rock site will be a medical office building for outpatient services such as imaging, a laboratory and rehabilitation, according to Sheldon’s presentation.
Two services that are available at Harford Memorial now — inpatient stays longer than 48 hours for acute medical needs and surgery — will be shifted to the Bel Air hospital.
“Ninety percent of the patients that we’re currently treating at Harford Memorial today would still be able to get those services at the Bulle Rock facility,” Sheldon said.
The Havre de Grace medical center will also have a helipad on site. Harford Memorial patients who need to be airlifted to other facilities, currently must be transported by ambulance to Stancill Field near the National Guard Armory off Old Bay Lane. Sheldon noted that is an eight-minute trip.
“Cutting out that ambulance part and having that helipad right there saves critical minutes,” said Dr. Angela Poppe Ries, president of UCH’s medical staff.
David Glenn, president of the Havre de Grace City Council, asked Sheldon why the bulk of UCH’s medical services could not be centralized in Havre de Grace, rather than Bel Air, considering Havre de Grace is along the I-95 corridor between the University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore and Christiana Hospital in Delaware.
Sheldon said most of the health system’s physicians live in Bel Air, Fallston or Baltimore County and tha it is becoming more challenging to recruit physicians to work in smaller areas such as Havre de Grace.
He recalled conversations with state officials about the issue.
“There was the general consensus that consolidating the inpatient beds in Bel Air, and the surgical capacity, made a lot more sense when we look at the availability of physicians and the drive time between the locations,” Sheldon said.
He said UCH and state leaders also determined that building a “small acute care hospital in Havre de Grace was probably not sustainable or practical for the long term.”
As they have at previous forums, people attending Wednesday’s session expressed concerns about losing medical services in Havre de Grace as well as increased traffic around the new medical center.
“At rush hour, it is a mess today, so if major changes don’t happen up there you’re going to have tons more accidents,” Level resident Phyllis Gilbert said.
Officials with UCH highlighted the current trend of “regionalization” of health care, which their Vision 2020 reflects.
“These regionalization projects are occurring around the nation,” Dr. Fermin Barrueto, the organization’s chief medical officer, said.
He said services are already being regionalized in Harford County, such as the consolidation of cardiovascular services at the Bel Air hospital — patients who come to the Harford Memorial ER with cardiac issues are transferred to Upper Chesapeake, and that will continue with the medical center.
Upper Chesapeake Health is Harford County’s largest private employer — it has more than 3,300 employees, according to Sheldon.
About 780 of them work at Harford Memorial, including full and part-time employees.
Officials have said in the past that positions would be cut in Havre de Grace, but Sheldon did not mention that Wednesday.
He said employees can transfer to the Havre de Grace medical center, to UCMC or another University of Maryland Medical System facility, or they can take advantage of UCH’s tuition reimbursement and career planning services to obtain more training and move within the organization.
Sheldon stressed the shift is still about three to four years out and they will start “job mapping” for employees about 18 months prior.
“We want folks to make sure that they’re focused on providing the patient care that they need to, or the support services, and not worry about what’s going to happen with their job,” he said.