State health regulators approved yesterday the Johns Hopkins Health System's plans to close the largest part of its financially ailing Homewood Hospital Center -- agreeing also to at least a temporary shift of the center's psychiatric programs to Union Memorial Hospital.
The arrangement appears to satisfy the cries of Hopkins' critics, who charged at a recent public hearing that the loss of Homewood's psychiatric programs would deprive emotionally disturbed residents of Homewood, Charles Village and other midtown neighborhoods of ready access to therapy.
And in another twist to the Homewood closing, Hopkins also won approval to transfer 20 beds to its Francis Scott Key Medical Center in East Baltimore, where they will comprise a unit for AIDS patients.
Under the closure plan, Hopkins will shut down the 213-bed Homewood Hospital Center-South in mid-May. The hospital, formerly known as North Charles General Hospital, recently has suffered from a sinking occupancy rate that currently leaves about half of the beds empty.
James Stanton, executive director of the Maryland Health Systems Planning Agency, said he was satisfied that other hospitals in metropolitan Baltimore will have room for patients who otherwise would have used Homewood-South.
On May 5, however, Union Memorial Hospital will take control of 35 inpatient psychiatric beds located at the Homewood-North building, formerly known as Wyman Park Hospital. Union Memorial also will operate outpatient services for about 1,000 patients there -- a service many observers considered vital to the surrounding neighborhood.
"Union Memorial deserves a lot of credit for being the white knight and stepping forward to offer taking these [psychiatric] services," Mr. Stanton said.
Jeffrey Lefko, vice president for planning at Union Memorial, said the hospital will operate the psychiatric program at the old Wyman Park building for about six months. It will then attempt to transfer the services to its main complex on 33rd Street -- pending a determination that there is space, that the program is economically viable and that it can work out a reimbursement agreement. Mr. Lefko said these conditions leave open the possibility that Union Memorial will find it impossible to provide the services for years to come. But he acknowledged that the community needs them, and said: "We are in a position of wanting to commit ourselves to community health-care needs."