Western Maryland Hospital Center in Hagerstown and the Deer’s Head Hospital Center in Salisbury could be closed under proposals in the Maryland Department of Health’s facilities master plan.
The Potomac Center in Maryland also could close and the Holly Center near Salisbury could be renovated in a later stage, according to the document.
The 20-year plan is intended “to align MDH’s projected patient care needs with health care services offered or provided by the department,” according to a news release the department issued with the plan Thursday.
A union leader charged that the plan is an attempt to privatize the services, which will lead to a reduction in care for patients and in the pay and benefits of people who provide that care.
“This is par for the course with this administration,” said Patrick Moran, president of AFSCME Council 3, which represents staffers at both facilities, referring to Gov. Larry Hogan. “They do not believe in government services. They believe in privatization.”
A state senator from Western Maryland said it’s too early to know how the plan will play out. But Sen. Paul Corderman, R-Washington, added that the future of Western Maryland Hospital Center has been discussed for years.
What’s in the plan?
The Maryland Department of Health has 14 health care facility campuses, but three are closed. The 11 operating facilities provide multiple health care services, including inpatient psychiatric care, residential and day treatment programs for children and adolescents with emotional disabilities, chronic care, and residential care for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
In the news release, the department said that many of the buildings “are aging and no longer align with evolving patient care models or are reaching or are at the end of their useful life.”
“Our goal through this ongoing process is to finalize a capital program that guides us through the rejuvenation of our facilities,” MDH Secretary Dennis R. Schrader said in the release.
The plan is in three parts.
Phase I, from 2022-2026, entails:
- Divesting three closed facilities: Crownsville Hospital Center in Anne Arundel County, Regional Institute for Children & Adolescents Southern Maryland in Prince George’s County and Upper Shore Community Mental Health Center in Kent County;
- Building four 24-hour regional crisis centers at yet-to-be determined sites in Western Maryland, Central Maryland, Southern Maryland and the Eastern Shore;
- “Identifying strategic partners to transfer services currently provided at Western Maryland Hospital Center in Hagerstown and Deer’s Head Hospital Center in Salisbury to healthcare and community providers”
- Assessing Central Maryland’s inpatient behavioral health capacity
Phase II, from 2027-2031, includes:
- Building a new facility for children and a Secure Evaluation Therapeutic Treatment facility in the Central Maryland region; and
- Building a replacement patient facility at the Springfield Hospital Center in Sykesville.
Phase III, from 2032-2041, includes:
- Renovating the Holly Center; integrating MDH facility patients with community providers; and
- Developing strategic partnerships to transition services currently provided at the Potomac Center and Spring Grove Hospital Center to healthcare and community providers.
What will be the impact?
The department also issued a sheet of what it called “frequently asked questions.”
That document says there will be “no significant change” in the day-to-day activities of patients and staff members.
For “facilities recommended for service transition,” like the Deer’s Head and Western Maryland centers, the department “will work with community partners to ensure a smooth transition of services for patients and will provide more information as it becomes available.”
The department also said it would work with staff members to transition them “within the state system or with community partners.”
A main goal is to keep patients and staff as close to their families as possible.
Corderman, whose Senate district includes Hagerstown, said the department is “looking for partners” to continue offering the services currently provided at the Western Maryland Hospital Center.
Just where those services will be provided “is part of the process of identifying partners,” he said. “My hope is it will continue to be in Hagerstown.”
And the workers who provide those services?
“Wherever the services go, I’ve been told those job opportunities will still be there,” Corderman said.
Many of those employees are members of AFSCME Council 3, the state’s largest public employee union. The council represents the bulk of employees at state hospitals, including psychologists, social workers, administrative staff members, licensed practical nurses, security officers, aides, maintenance and housekeeping personnel and others.
Moran, the council president, said the plan echoes earlier concerns about privatizing the Western Maryland State Hospital.
In 2016, concerns about privatization were “rapidly shut down when the community cried out and said ‘No.’ This is just a rerun of that attempt,” Moran said.
“We’re going to do everything we can to stop that once again.”
Moran said the hospital is one of few facilities in the state providing care for people who might not be able to afford it otherwise.
And he said the state has failed to properly invest in infrastructure, like the hospitals.
“The building is a solid building if they’d just make adjustments to it,” he said of the facility near Hagerstown.
Deer’s Head, Western Maryland rated ‘poor’
Both the Deer’s Head building, built in 1951, and Western Maryland facility, constructed in 1957, were rated “poor” in an assessment of the buildings.
Both suffered because their design makes it difficult and costly to provide modern standards of care. The report notes that the Western Maryland Hospital Center had the highest operational and clinical care cost per patient of any of the state’s facilities. Deer’s Head ranked second.
Among the problems are large rooms meant to serve multiple patients. Modern standards of care call for having fewer people per room.
Also, the types of technology available at the time of construction makes it difficult to control the temperature and humidity in the building. Both buildings have had mold problems that had to be remediated.
Western Maryland is licensed for 123 patient beds, according to the report. It is budgeted to serve 55 patients and had an average daily census of 49.
Deer’s Head is licensed for 125 patient beds. It is budgeted to serve to serve 54 and had an average daily census of 44.
In at least one instance, the report lauds the staff for coping with building deficiencies.
“Despite the limitations of the physical layout of the facility and original construction of the building envelope, the facility staff and maintenance staff manage to deliver quality patient care,” the assessment states of the Western Maryland Hospital Center.
Herald-Mail Media staff writer Tamela Baker contributed to this report.
Mike Lewis covers business, the economy and other issues for Herald-Mail Media. Follow Mike on Twitter at MiLewis.