Out and About (Sort of): Healthcare in Our Backyard by Howard Freedlander

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As controversy has roiled the University of Maryland Medical System (UMMS), headquartered in Baltimore, over self-dealing contracts awarded volunteer board members, I believe that the time has come for the members of the Talbot County Council, Easton Town Council and other local and county governments to seek a frank, no-spin briefing by UMMS Shore Regional Health (SRH) operating in Easton, Cambridge, Chestertown, Queenstown and Denton, not only about board ethics, but also the state of healthcare in our backyard.

All of us have benefitted from the care and treatment offered by SRH. We are fortunate to have access to good medical care in a rural area. While SRH may be the first stop in receiving more sophisticated medical treatment elsewhere–be it Annapolis, Baltimore, Washington or Philadelphia– it fulfills a critical, if not urgent need. SRH’s predecessor, Memorial Hospital in Easton, was a godsend for many of us and our families.

Life on the Mid-Shore is better because of SRH. 

My basic concern is whether SRH can achieve excellence as a regional hospital. It might be a difficult task in the shadow of world-class hospitals in Baltimore and Washington. It may be impossible to avoid being a way station for patients eager to seek top-level care at research institutions, such as Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions and the University of Maryland Medical Center, both 65 miles away in Baltimore.

The quest for medical prominence must remain a worthy goal. After talking with Eva Smorzanuik, a retired Easton radiologist, I am concerned about SRH. She said that as revenues have risen for UMMS, “Shore facilities have faced almost annual budget cuts, constriction of services, layoffs, and a frustrating work environment.”

In light of the revelations in recent months about UMMS procurement procedures and the culture of awarding sole-source contracts to board members, I urge county and town council members to act now in querying public officials about a health system that holds the key to the climate of health care in Caroline, Dorchester, Kent, Queen Anne’s and Talbot counties. Further, I recommend that political leaders seek guidance on the right questions to ask and concerns to express.

Are decisions made at the corporate level sensibly applicable and useful to Shore Regional Health? Is staff morale suitable for providing quality and compassionate care? Is there a person, perhaps an ethicist, employed to offer advice on medical and business matters? What do surveys reveal about customer satisfaction? 

What is the process to recruit new doctors and nursing professionals? What new specialties are being offered? Does SRH survey medical professionals about their relationships with each other and administrative staff?

Another question strikes me as especially pertinent: how specifically has the merger in 2006 between Memorial Hospital and UMMS benefitted the delivery of health care in our area? Is it measurable?

Tough, probing questions need not be threatening. They may be useful in yielding answers that lead to straightforward communication and upgraded medical services. 

Like many, my family and I have felt more secure knowing that good regional medical care is accessible and generally helpful. We are thankful for a hospital system in our backyard (even within walking distance),

I believe that the delivery of medical treatment in the Mid-Shore area faces a future filled with improvement. Its patients demand it. 

Joint sessions of county and town governments might be a perfect forum for a hearty discussion, with the public invited, on the state of health care in our region.

Save the Date invitations should go out now. 

Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland. Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer. In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.

 

Letters to Editor

  1. Kenneth Mount Miller says

    Timely – A most thoughtful, succinct & probing article.

  2. JT Smith says

    This is an excellent recommendation.

  3. Glenn Baker says

    Well said Howard.
    Please let our local representatives know this is an important matter to us all.

  4. Tom Alspach says

    These are excellent questions Howard, but here is the most important question of all: When are we going to see construction start on the new hospital, on Longwoods Road, that was promised some 15 years ago, and was the primary inducement that persuaded the leadership of then Memorial Hospital to approve its acquisition by UMMS? The promised start date has been a moving target for years, accompanied by doubletalk from UMMS spokespeople. And if the new hospital is not going to happen, why isn’t equivalent funding being directed to improvement of the hospital we already have? That level of investment was the bargain UMMS made with our community when they took control of our hospital years ago.

    • More excellent points, Tom! The town and county councils agreed to many things to facilitate the takeover, based on the assumption that the hospital would continue to reside in Easton. Commitments to provide the property, annex the property, and extend sewer and water have been made, and, partly, funded. An interesting question to pose to council members is how much money has been spent in hard and soft dollars?

  5. Thank you Howard. As both a patient and a physician I would like to be assured that UMMS SRH has the best interests of the people of the Eastern Shore as its first priority. This includes creating a robust and responsive care structure as well as a thriving work environment, and not just some meaningless “jingle” to act as a mission statement.

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