As is the case with all small communities, words (fact or fiction) travel fast when it comes to a potential threat to nearby hospitals and medical centers. A perception of not having ready access to primary health services is troubling and stressful for many, and particularly those of retirement age. So, it wasn’t surprising to witness rumors fly from Dorchester County to Kent County on the future of the University of Maryland’s Regional Shore Health as the institution enters the final planning stage of its long-term strategic reorganization.
The issues related to the allocation of health services in rural regions is not a new one, but that doesn’t mitigate the fact that these kinds of debates strike at the very core of one’s sense of quality of life and security. As older people face the balance of their lives intertwined with ongoing medical needs, service locations and who their providers are, are not of secondary importance. Indeed, it is this kind of critical information people weigh when deciding where to retire.
With that in mind, it is understandable that even the mention of losing health services activates an instinctive response on the part of many to resist that perceived change. In a community like Chestertown, which had already lost a maternity ward to downsizing three years ago, there also had been a collective perception that what remained of services at the Chester River Health Center would be preserved. The news that this may not be the case has predictably set into motion a climate of anxiety and apprehension.
The good news is that the Regional Shore Health’s CEO Ken Kozel quickly responded to these heightened concerns and made clear this week that no final decisions had been made on how the health care organization would be reallocating services throughout its five-county market. By all accounts, including our own conversations with board trustees and staff, that statement rings true as the organization’s leaders wait for the final report from consultants and their own internal committee tasked in making recommendations to the Regional Shore Health’s governing board.
The bad news is that the hard work has just begun for Regional Shore Health’s leadership. Over the next several months, those leaders will not only determine plans based on the committee’s findings but also evaluate the tangible and intangible community health, social and economic impacts of those plans. It is hard to imagine a more challenging place for nonprofit leaders to find themselves in than at the center of what will be a very complex and difficult decision process.
In the midst of these kinds of circumstances the only adequate response for the Spy* is to provide the same kind of in-depth coverage we have applied to other regional concerns of this magnitude, including our recent work on the Conowingo Dam. Over the next few months, we plan to share with our readers a full portfolio of material and stakeholder interviews to provide the kind of information needed for any individual to make an intelligent assessment on Regional Shore Health’s options and final decisions.
The Spy believes that real public education is best served when everyone has access to the best information. That will be our job over the next few months.
* Full disclosure: The UM Regional Shore Health Foundation sponsors, in part, the Spy’s ongoing news coverage of health and addiction recovery issues on the Mid-Shore.