To the editor: The Kent County News headline on Oct. 17 read "Easton doctors oppose behavioral health move."

I am an Easton doctor and I fully support the move to Chestertown.

Having traveled from Easton to Chestertown since 2012, I absolutely understand the inconvenience. However, there is a bigger picture to consider in terms of patient care and the rural health care situation.

"Location ... centralization ... and proximity to services" for behavioral health patients should not be the issue.

Patient care for these vulnerable patients in crisis is first and foremost. The Shore Regional Health system is prepared to make the Chestertown hospital a Center of Excellence for behavioral health inpatient care for the five-county region that it serves.

I am not a behavioral health care specialist, but it seems to me that a truly dedicated behavioral health care provider would be extremely receptive to having this support.

As mentioned in the article, Dr Bruce Helmly, president of the medical staff signed the letter to the Maryland Health Care Commission opposing the move. What Dr Helmy failed to mention is the fact that the Medical Executive Committee comprised of the departmental chiefs and chairs of the hospital committees voted to approve the move.

Shore Regional Health system is prepared to maintain outpatient and Bridge Clinic services in Dorchester with expansion to Talbot and Kent counties. This means behavioral health patients will continue to have local support and follow-up treatment.

The "burden of travel" is stated as a reason why Chestertown is not "the desirable location for the relocated in-patient psychiatric beds."

Understand that several Easton providers make the trip from Easton to Chestertown and vice versa. General medical services including cardiac, pulmonary, orthopedic, urologic, gynecologic, general and plastic surgery, breast care specialists, ENT, chronic pain management and in-patient hospitalist care are available in Chestertown. And, yes, sometimes these patients require transportation to other health care centers depending on the severity of their illness.

Rural hospitals are in a vulnerable position. Travel distance is absolutely a challenge. However, it should be understood that this move provides an opportunity to bridge this gap — and make Shore Regional Health a truly regional system.

Ona M Kareiva, M.D.

Medical Executive Committee

Shore Regional Health Board

Easton

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