Although the Union Memorial Hospital Sports Medicine Center at Bel Air opened with the usual ribbon-cutting fanfare last week, the facility won't begin full operation until tomorrow.
Physicians trained in sports medicine will start part time at the 5,000-square-foot facility, in the new addition of the Bel Air Athletic Club, said Neil MacDonald, director of operations of the Union Memorial Sports Medicine Center.
"We're pretty excited," MacDonald said. "We're the first comprehensive sports medicine center to come to Harford County. Folks who live up there deserve the best and that's what we're going to give them."
Operated by Union Memorial Hospital of Baltimore, the facility will offer physicians trained in sports-related injuries, physical therapists and athletic trainers, MacDonald said.
In addition, long-range plans call for the center to offer physicians trained in hand- and spine-related injuries and a work-hardening program that will helpinjured workers re-train for their jobs in a simulated work environment, he said.
The center will not perform outpatient surgery. Those procedures will continue to be scheduled at Union Memorial Hospital, he said.
MacDonald estimated the hospital spent about $250,000 building the center and purchasing equipment, such as an X-ray machine.
Union Memorial has operated a sports medicine clinic at the hospital since 1979. In looking to expand services in the metropolitan Baltimore area, the hospital chose Harford for several reasons, he said. They included the lack of sports medicine facilities in the county and a perceived need for those services.
"Any time you drive in Harford, you see hundreds of rec council kids playing sports," MacDonald said. "We thought the high schools were being under-served. We really think there's a tremendous volume of patients out there. Many of them are driving into the city for services."
The Bel Air Athletic Club on Boulton Street, he said, was a natural site for the facility because of its central location and its 10-year successful run.
"It's been such a successful club that it made sense to be with them," said Amy Strong, a hospital spokeswoman. "It's one of the largest in the country now that they're finished with the expansion."
IRSA, the Association of Quality Clubs, recently named the Bel Air Athletic Club one of the five best-managed health and fitness clubs in North America. It was considered the best in the southeast region, which includes 17 states from Maryland to Oklahoma.
The sports medicine center is in a 50,000-square-foot addition to the club, which also included tripling of space for cardiovascular and strength-training equipment and new facilities for basketball courts.
"In my judgment, it's a terrific addition for the entire county community," said Roger Ralph, club president who founded the facility in 1980. "The Union Memorial Hospital sports medicine center was probably one of the first sports medicine centers in the region. They have an excellent reputation."
Ralph said long-range implication of the facility are significant. He said such facilities, combined with athletic clubs, could effect health-care costs. They make people more aware of the link between good health and exercise.