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Shore Health CEO pinpoints staffing issues and COVID in ER slowdowns, despite low hospitalizations

CENTREVILLE — Speaking to Queen Anne’s County Commissioners about the healthcare system’s recent troubles in delivering timely emergency care, University of Maryland Shore Regional Health (UMSRH) president and CEO Ken Kozel identified nursing shortages and “enormous” COVID-related hospitalizations as primary culprits, even though the shore-based system is experiencing single-digit COVID admissions daily.

“We’re seeing delta with COVID-positive patients, resulting in admissions in our hospitals,” Kozel told the commissioners during their Tuesday, Sept. 28 meeting. “And in large part, it’s for patients who have not been vaccinated with either Pfizer, Moderna, or Johnson and Johnson.”

“We have the cure,” Kozel continued. “We have the answer right in front of us, and it’s just a matter of getting our community – our collective community of the country – behind the vaccinations.”

This summer, excessive delays in emergency rooms – driven, at least in part, by staffing issues – across the Eastern and Western shores became a point of concern for the county’s commissioners. Described as “a national crisis” by Kozel, the incumbent problems of delays, nursing shortages, and the pandemic have combined, as vaccine mandates from healthcare systems nationwide have contributed to a reaching loss in staff.

After postponing its original Sept. 1 deadline, Shore Health’s vaccine mandate for all staff members goes into effect Friday, Oct. 1, two days after Kozel’s appearance in Queen Anne’s County. According to the UMSRH president, slightly over 90 percent of the entire University of Maryland Medical System (UMMS) staff is vaccinated, and “about the same” number are vaccinated at UMSRH.

“Our challenge is, how do we get [those] who aren’t vaccinated now to vaccinated by October 1,” Kozel said. “And making sure that...they’re aware of the expectations [that] we have and that they’re aware of the ramifications of their decision.”

As of Sept. 30, out of Shore Health’s full-time employees, approximately 96 percent are vaccinated, UMSRH spokesperson Trena Williamson told The Star Democrat. The mandate, however, applies to all system employees, including contractors and volunteers.

“It’s a privilege to work in healthcare and provide healthcare,” Kozel told QA commissioners. “But with that privilege, I believe, comes responsibility...and that’s why the mandate exists.”

Kozel also said that as of Sept. 28, while there were 150 inpatients suffering from COVID-19 across UMMS – about 25 percent of which, he said, were in intensive care units and another 25 percent were on ventilators – UMSRH is seeing between five and 10 COVID-related admissions per day, primarily in their Easton facility.

In mid-August, the Easton hospital took down the largest of its temporary triage tents designed to accommodate potential surges in COVID cases.

Even so, Shore Health hospitals regularly used to treat Queen Anne’s County patients, including Easton, experienced significant stress during the summer season.

According to the County/Hospital Alert Tracking System (CHATS), which monitors ER capabilities at five status levels, both UMSRH’s Easton and Dorchester locations were on red alert for over 500 hours in August, meaning that neither facility had electrocardiogram (ECG) monitored beds available. In total, Easton was on alert for 728.71 hours in August.

In September, the Easton facility was on alert for over 830 hours, according to CHATS, just over 600 of which were on red.

While QA commissioners receive weekly updates on hospital alert numbers, CHATS data was first presented to the board as a focus point by Commissioner Steve Wilson during their Aug. 24 meeting. Wilson then wrote a letter to Kozel asking for an explanation and “predictive statement” related to strategies that would offset those trends before the winter, when hospitalizations historically rise.

What he got, Wilson described during the latest commissioner meeting, was a “descriptive” reply related to retention and recruitment of staff. Requests by the Bay Times to read the response from Shore Regional Health were denied, as the letter, according to QA officials, was not written to be on the record.

Though Wilson accepted Kozel’s reasoning that similar issues on the Western Shore have contributed to Shore Health’s delays – the Luminis Health Anne Arundel Medical Center, for instance, was on alert 486 hours in August and 460 hours in September – the commissioner continued asking for strategies.

“This is no attempt to complain or whine about things,” Commissioner Steve Wilson told Kozel Sept. 28. “I’m just concerned – and all of us are – about the capacity of the system.

“If you’re stressed out now, what the hell is going to be improving when you got more load and more burned-out people in late December?”

Before Kozel was given the chance to answer that question directly – the UMSRH CEO would later point to the potential December opening of an urgent care center on Kent Island – Wilson was interrupted by the delayed transmission of a graph depicting volume levels at the Queenstown Emergency Center.

Adding to the burden of a system already stretched thin, across the system, out of more than 29,500 team members, there are approximately 750 who are non-compliant and on administrative leave. Of note, 60 percent of these staff members are those who work eight hours or less a week, Michael Schwartzberg, UMMS Media Relations Director reported in an interview, Oct. 4.

“After 30 days of administrative leave following the deadline to vaccine, those employees will be considered as having resigned,” Schwartzberg said. He also noted as of the Oct. 1 deadline, “98% of full and part-time clinical staff and over 96% of all team members at UMMS are in full compliance with the mandatory COVID-19 vaccine requirement, making UMMS the first large health system in the State to reach this important milestone. This represents significant progress and we are grateful for all the UMMS team members who have made the decision to get vaccinated.”

Luke Parker is a journalist and award-winning film critic covering government, schools, crime, and business. To send a tip or question, email lparker@chespub.com. For updates, like Luke Parker — Journalist on Facebook or follow him on Twitter: @lparkernews

Editor Hannah Combs contributed to this article.

Centreville Police Department celebrates 125 years of service and support

CENTREVILLE — Spurred by a mutual sense of respect for history and the line of duty, officers, officials and citizens congregated Saturday, Oct. 2, to celebrate the 125th anniversary of the Centreville Police Department.

“The world has changed a lot in the past 125,” Centreville Town Council member Tim McCluskey said. “But one of the things that’s been constant is having a police presence here in the town of Centreville. And we couldn’t be prouder of the fact that we’re one of the safest municipalities in the state of Maryland. We’ve got a police force that is dedicated and doing their best to be safe and keeping the rest of us safe, as well.”

The event, which took place in front of the department’s headquarters on North Commerce Street, was lined with attractions, including a two-hoop basketball game and an axe-throwing tent. Hot dogs were tossed on the grill, and for the particularly warm October afternoon, there was plenty of ice cold water.

“I wanted very much to thank the police for everything they’ve done, everything they do, and everything they will do,” said Centreville resident Sandy Simpson.

Simpson, with the help of Officer Colin Rhodes, was one of the many visitors who wore drunk-simulating goggles and attempted walking in a straight line, part of the field sobriety test implemented with drivers suspected of being under the influence.

As an acknowledgment of the past, the outskirts of the department building were decorated with tidbits of the police force’s history. Presentation boards with pinned-on patches and pictures of important moments in the department’s past — including a tribute to Michael Scott Nickerson, who was killed in the line of duty, along with Deputy Sheriff Jason Schwenz, in February 2001 — sat outside, adjacent to a timeline of past uniforms.

Though the town of Centreville was founded in 1782 – the French spelling in its name inspired by the European country’s help during the Revolutionary War – the town’s first police officer, a night watchman named William Jones, wasn’t sworn in until Sept. 10, 1896.

According to the ordinance that first authorized the appointment of a night watchmen, the officer was given full police powers, including the authority to make arrests and “to do all and any acts necessary” to protect the people, lives, and property of the town.

Though that declaration sounds substantial, a momentous jumping off point for local law enforcement, Centreville Police Chief Joe Saboury joked, that without rampant crime, the position — which held a $350 monthly salary — mostly involved keeping cattle in their place.

To start, Centreville’s police worked out of the town hall. But eventually, as the department grew, going from one officer to five, and from five to 10, it relocated down the road to its current location, only a phone call away and a minute’s drive from Queen Anne’s County’s government hub.

“We feel like we play a really, really important role as the first responders to the (county seat),” Saboury said.

Passing through this evolution, and without ever growing too big, the town’s police force now has 13 sworn officers and one K9 unit. With Sgt. Andy Larrimore holding the leash, Crush, the department’s 10-year-old Belgian Malinois, demonstrated his drug-sniffing snout for the crowd several times throughout the afternoon.

While Saboury is confident in his team with their present workload, as the town of Centreville continues its development both in population and infrastructure — he specifically mentioned the Vincit Street YMCA that’s currently in the works — the chief said Centreville’s Police Department needs to grow along with it.

“We have to be sure that we’re in a position that we’re going to be able to provide high level of police services to all businesses and to all citizens,” Saboury said. “The town cannot continue to grow and to swell, and (have) the police departments stay at the same level.”

Along with several of the officers at Saturday’s celebration, Saboury said he was grateful not only for the “overwhelming support” of Centreville’s citizens, but that of its elected officials as well. He said Centreville’s town council supported services and incentives that had “gone without attention for many, many, many years,” making the police department a better workplace for its current officers, as well as an attractive one for prospective candidates.

“They are so great about taking care of us and supporting us,” Saboury said.

Two new members join Centreville Town Council

CENTREVILLE — The Centreville Town Council will see two fresh faces beginning this new term. Eric Johnson and Ashley Kaiser were elected Monday, Oct. 1 to fill a three-year and two-year term, respectively.

Two seats on the five-member council were open. Councilman Tim McCluskey’s term was up, and he was seeking reelection for another three-year term. And someone was needed to fill out the unfinished term of Bob Hardy, who resigned when he moved out of the area — a two-year term.

Each voter could select two candidates. A total of 952 votes were cast.

Of the 510 citizens who voted Johnson received 399 votes, Kaiser — 361 and McCluskey — 192.

McCluskey, an executive search consultant who moved to Centreville in 2006, was elected to the town council in 2009 where he served the community in continuity through this year.

The two elected Council Members wore sworn in on Thursday, Oct. 7 at the regular public meeting of the council.

Vice President Steve Kline was also elected by the council to the position of president and Johnson appointed as liaison to Centreville Economic Development Authority.

Building on her campaign commitments, Kaiser said she wants to work towards a cohesive community where residents, businesses and the Town can achieve a sense of place. “With a sense of place comes a vibrant community,” Kaiser said.

When residents were polled during his campaign, Johnson said one of things most noted by all demographics was the sense that they were leaving town on weekdays and weekends to spend their money elsewhere.

Kaiser and Johnson both hope this is something they will see change.

Ahead of the election, the two helped plan a First Friday event that was attended by hundreds in the town square. The concept of a First Friday event is one that was in the town’s own economic study from years past, Johnson said. Working with the county (which permits use of the courthouse green) both committed to the First Friday and other downtown events regardless of the election outcome, and had reserved the space for the next six months.

They agree Centreville’s downtown is beautiful and underdeveloped to its potential. “We need to maintain downtown growth and the balance of our core,” Kaiser added. And they both hope events like First Friday will encourage other groups to explore that potential.

“We were up against some resistance within the town structure, nonetheless we had the support of most of the town staff and most of the council,” Johnson noted. “The town is a business and here to serve the community and having the town endorse or lend their support, even if not financially, is certainly helpful.

My personal commitment is to work toward a town that offers it’s official support/endorsement of mutually beneficial events/programs more freely. To those departments that offered their support for a First Friday event freely, we thank you — and look forward to authorizing your official participation in the near future.”

Another concern heard frequently during campaign season was water bills. “It is a critical priority to address perceptions,” Johnson said. “I don’t think anything is nefarious with the water bills, but many have reached out wanting to know why their bills have changed or not changed, and they deserve answers,” he said, even though he was clear that he doesn’t think there is anything underhanded at work.

People tend to fill the void with their own opinions when they don’t necessarily get answers from the government, local or otherwise, Kaiser added.

Johnson and Kaiser said they excited to join their new fellow council members.

“Although we may not all agree on every point, I think we will be successful in moving like minded things forward,” Johnson said.

“First Friday’s are just the beginning,” Kaiser said, “We are looking forward to working inside the town hall and not only outside.”

At the Tuckahoe Equestrian Center booth, left, TEC President Linda Middleton, and board member Mandy Wolfe, Saturday, Oct. 2, during this year’s annual “Celebration of the Horse” festivities. The event was a big success this year, with the weather doing its best to chip-in. It was truly a beautiful day!

Celebration of the Horse ‘21

Queen Anne’s County High School’s 2021 Homecoming King and Queen, seniors William George and Molly Evans, travel along the parade route through Centreville, Friday evening, Oct. 1. View more photos online at www.myeasternshoremd.com

QACHS celebrates with Homecoming Parade