CHESTERTOWN — The Kent County Commissioners had an appointment with Ken Kozel, University of Maryland Shore Regional Health CEO, at their Jan. 24 meeting to discuss updates on the hospital system’s operations.
Arvin Singh, vice president of strategy and communications for UM SRH, was also present at the meeting.
As part of the presentation, Kozel provided information on the work SRH has done over the last two decades with healthcare delivery.
“Health care (was) incredibly challenged over the last several years, especially with COVID, but even before COVID, we experienced some major challenges,” Kozel told the commissioners. “I just want to share with you some of the innovative things we’re doing in the five county region, specifically here in Chestertown.”
In Chestertown, the health care delivery model changed when the UM Shore Medical Center at Chestertown became the first Maryland Rural Hospital in the state July 1, 2021.
“That designation allowed us to keep the hospital open, keep inpatient beds, but adjust it so that it’s the right size hospital for this community — for the Mid-Shore community,” Kozel said. “Quite honestly, we were struggling with volumes of patients here at your local hospital, but what we believe is that because of the distance to Easton, we needed to have inpatient beds here in Chestertown.”
Under the rural designation, Kozel said the hospital is capable of caring for emergency room patients 24/7/365. He said the ER sees about 30 to 40 patients per day.
In addition to the emergency room, there are observation beds and inpatient beds for mild to moderately complex patients. Kozel said those patients need care in the hospital for up to four days.
“If you need that level of care beyond mild to moderately complex … the doctor will make the choice about what’s the appropriate location for you to get your care,” Kozel said.
The Chestertown medical center can see up to 25 patients in its facility, Kozel said.
While there are still operating rooms and general surgeons on staff, Kozel said there are not surgery capabilities around the clock. Instead, patients will be stabilized until the next day or more emergent cases will be transported and cared for in Easton. The Chestertown hospital also no longer has an intensive care unit.
Kozel said there are no plans to bring inpatient pediatric care to the Chestertown hospital.
“Our physicians in the emergency department and our hospitals can care for pediatric patients, so if a pediatric patient comes in the ER, we’ve got you covered; we can manage those patients. But if that patient needs to be admitted, they will likely be transferred to Easton, and if they can’t be seen safely in Easton they’ll be transferred to another facility,” Kozel said.
Kozel said there was not a “high need” for pediatric care, with only two or three pediatric patients on the census each day.
The Chestertown medical center was modeled after critical access hospitals found across the country, designed to provide care tailored to their communities, according to Kozel.
“So far, from the hospital’s perspective, it’s (the rural hospital designation) been a huge success. I think from the community perspective, still having a hospital, still having acute beds and still having access to primary care and diagnostic services are important for this community. And that’s what we intend to keep, and keep viable, throughout the Kent County region,” Kozel said. “(The Chestertown hospital) is doing very, very well at meeting the needs not only of Chestertown and Kent County and Queen Anne’s County, but what we found was as we continue to be busy as a health care system, we are able to take patients from Easton and even from Dorchester and Caroline counties and relocate them to Chestertown for their inpatient care needs. So it’s really helping us provide some support for the comprehensive needs of the community.”
UM SRH’s other health care options in the five-county region include an emergency center and medical office on Route 50 in Queen Anne’s County and a medical office for primary care and diagnostic testing on Route 404 in Caroline County. In Dorchester County, SRH closed Dorchester General Hospital and relocated services to a free-standing medical facility in Cambridge with a 24/7 emergency department, diagnostic testing, primary care and rehab care.
“Everything we have done has been predicated on building a new hospital in Easton as the hub for the five-county region,” Kozel said.
That new Shore Regional Medical Center in Easton will be located adjacent to the Talbot County Community Center on Route 50.
The site is about 236 acres. Roughly half, 135 acres, will be used for the hospital, parking and other access roads. Kozel said at some point, the site will serve as the “centralized campus for Easton,” where other services located in Easton will be relocated over time.
The future Regional Medical Center will include be six stories and include hospital-based care and inpatient beds, Kozel said.
“The beds range from behavioral health to rehab to intensive care unit beds to step-down beds to medical, surgical and telemetry beds,” Kozel said.
There are also operating rooms, labs, radiology and “all the things you need to run a great regional health care system,” Kozel said.
A two-story medical office building will stand adjacent to the hospital building.
Draft designs for the hospital also include future growth opportunities mapped onto them.
“If we need more inpatient beds over time, we can build another floor on top of the (medical office building) … if we need more ER space, we can build behind the hospital and expend that space,” Kozel said.
That type of expansion is not possible at the current location of the Easton hospital, which Kozel said is landlocked and lacks enough parking space.
“We’ve actually had to move hospital-based services off the hospital and put them throughout the town,” Kozel said.
The University of Maryland Medical System and Shore Regional Health approved of the Regional Medical Center project in 2022. The certification of need application was filed with the state on Jan. 6. That application justifies the need for the new hospital and shares information about size, scope and cost. It will take about a year for a response to the application, Kozel said.
If the application is approved, construction on the new hospital should begin in 2025. The construction project should take three years, with the structure completed and occupied in 2028.
“We are in the early stages, but moving this project along,” Kozel said.
When the new hospital opens, other hospital operations and staff will move into it. The locations currently being used in Easton will close.
Kozel said UM SRH will be recruiting new providers to work in the Easton hospital.
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