CHESTERTOWN — University of Maryland Shore Regional Health announced Monday, July 1, that it is moving forward with the application process to transfer inpatient beds from the hospital it is closing in Cambridge to the one in Chestertown.
According to a news release, UM Shore Regional Health will prepare a modified Certificate of Exemption application to the Maryland Health Care Commission to move inpatient behavioral health beds and services from UM Shore Medical Center at Dorchester to UM Shore Medical Center at Chestertown.
If the application is submitted and approved, the move would occur when a new freestanding medical facility replacing the Cambridge hospital opens in summer 2021, the release states.
“We are grateful for the physicians, advanced practice providers and team members at Shore Behavioral Health who provide such compassionate, quality care for our patients,” said Ken Kozel, UM Shore Regional Health CEO. “Their dedication and healing work benefits patients under the most challenging circumstances.”
Kent County residents long have been concerned UM Shore Regional Health and parent company University of Maryland Medical System are seeking to close the Chestertown hospital and, like the Cambridge facility, move to a freestanding medical center model, with inpatient services being transferred to a new regional hospital long planned for Easton.
Kozel confirmed last summer worries that inpatient services at the Chestertown hospital were going to be terminated.
Prior to Kozel’s admission, though, state lawmakers passed a bill requiring inpatient services remain in Chestertown through 2020. Following a groundswell of community support, UM Shore Regional Health agreed to extend that through 2022.
Speaking to the Dorchester County Chamber of Commerce in May, Kozel spoke about the idea of moving inpatient behavioral health services to UM Shore Medical Center at Chestertown.
“How can we maintain or sustain the viability of that hospital?” Kozel said then. “One of the things we are looking at as a possibility of is seeing if we could relocate those behavioral health beds to Chestertown permanently. What we would do is provide sustainability to Chestertown. It also would maintain that service in our five-county region.”
Dr. Jerry O’Connor is a leader of the local Save the Hospital campaign to preserve inpatient services at UM Shore Medical Center at Chestertown. He previously expressed hope about the effects moving the behavioral unit could have on preserving hospital services in Chestertown.
“This would be crucial to our survival going forward,” O’Connor said of the proposal in an email June 6.
Deborah Mizeur is an expert on national health policy. A Kent County resident, she served on a state commission to study rural health care delivery as concerns over the future of the Chestertown hospital were reaching a fever pitch.
She wrote in May that moving the behavioral health beds to Chestertown “makes good business sense” for UM Shore Regional Health and is a “good first step” in preserving the hospital here.
“They are able to make use of bed capacity at Chestertown, while also bringing more people (and revenue) into the facility. There is still more that needs to be done to bring services back to the community so that we have a fully-functioning hospital again, but this is a step in the right direction,” Mizeur wrote in an email in May.
According to the July 1 news release, preparation of the modified COE should take 60 to 90 days. Final approval of the COE application by both health system boards could come in September.
The next step would be approval of the plan by the Maryland Health Care Commission, followed by construction of the inpatient unit at UM Shore Medical Center at Chestertown, the release states. That could put the behavioral health unit’s opening in 2021.
In the interim, a staffing transition plan is expected to be developed. UM Shore Regional Health officials also announced intentions to “work with community partners to develop an expanded network of outpatient community-based support services throughout the five-county region,” according to the release.
“Shore Regional Health’s Service Delivery Plan includes a commitment to join with our community partners to create a robust behavioral health continuum of integrated inpatient and outpatient services to serve the region. We are enthusiastic about the prospect of this plan and the positive impact it will have on health care in all five counties, including this opportunity, among others that may emerge in support of rural health care, to enhance the stability of inpatient services at Shore Medical Center at Chestertown,” Kozel said in the July 1 news release.
Additional reporting by Trish McGee and Dustin Holt.