Even though his last day as president of North Arundel Hospital is New Year's Eve, Alfred J. Bryan Jr. intends to work a full day before celebrating. Old habits are hard to break.
For 29 years, he has shown up every morning by 6:30. He often has spent holidays at the hospital, working side by side with nurses and doctors who couldn't take the day off. He likes to greet the midnight shift with a smile beforehis daily round of meetings.
"What I enjoyed most is the people," said Bryan, tipping back hischair in the hospital's new executive conference room. "It went hand-in-hand with being able to provide medical services that people need."
When the 68-year-old chief executive officer retires, his right-hand man and fellow graduate from Georgia State University's health-care administration program will take over.
James R. Walker, a 47-year-old native of North Carolina who has risen to executive vice president during his 22 years at the hospital, will move over one officeand assume the top post.
The leadership change comes only months after the hospital finished a $22 million project to enlarge its critical and intensive care units, renovate its emergency room, add an executive wing and an admissions room, and centralize outpatient care.
Bryan said he wanted to stay on board until the work was done because he began his North Arundel career at the hospital's groundbreaking ceremony.
When he was hired in 1962 from Melready Memorial Hospital in Crisfield, the Glen Burnie community had dug a huge hole in the middle of strawberry fields south of Route 3.
It took the community three more years to raise $1.7 million and finish building the 107-bed hospital.
"For 11 months, we weren't certain we could open,"Bryan recalled. "The money just wasn't coming in. Then the county provided a grant, and we actually opened our doors on the Fourth of July."
Within a year, the hospital was beginning to outgrow the firstfacility. Bryan guided it through a $7 million expansion from 1972 through 1974, adding a six-story wing and 232 beds.
Although hospital care changed dramatically during his tenure, Bryan has always heldto conservative fiscal policies and strong public relations efforts.He credits his tenure as the state's longest-serving hospital CEO tohis financial management skills.
Walker has vowed to continue theBryan management tradition, while expanding and altering some of thehospital's services in the next decade.
"What we're seeing in thehealth-care field right now is a tremendous shift from an inpatient population to an outpatient one," he said. "I think the hospital has to react to that."
He wants to add more outpatient surgery, emergency care and services for the elderly, such as a geriatric day-care center. The county is graying faster than the rest of the state, and Walker says the future of North Arundel lies in providing geriatric care.
Because Medicare and Medicaid, the national medical insurance programs for the elderly and poor, have cut back sharply on inpatientcare, the hospital will have to assess how best to serve those groups, he said. North Arundel also must look for new revenue sources, he added, because most of its patients are middle-class and working-class families, who increasingly have limited medical coverage.
"It certainly is going to become more difficult," Walker said. "But since we're in a growth area in terms of population, we will be able to counterbalance some of that."
North Arundel flourished over the last two decades as more families moved into Odenton, Glen Burnie and otherboom neighborhoods in the western and northern ends of the county. The growth helped offset losses in medical payments and a decrease in the average hospital stay, from 11 to 5.8 days, Bryan said.
"I think there's a good future, but there are a lot of big issues," he said. "Now, it's time for the younger people to take the helm and deal with those things."