Hearing on new hospital draws divided testimony

August 21, 1994|By Suzanne Loudermilk | Suzanne Loudermilk,Sun Staff Writer

It was a match between the white T-shirts and the black ribbons.

Hundreds of supporters and opponents of a new Harford County hospital packed the auditorium at Bel Air High School on Thursday night, carrying placards and wearing their colors.

Those favoring Upper Chesapeake Health System's proposal to build a new facility wore white. Others donned black to oppose what they called the "death of Harford Memorial."

They came from as far away as Baltimore and Rising Sun in Cecil County.

4 Hissing, booing and cheering marked the evening.

The public hearing was conducted by the Maryland Health Resources Planning Commission to give residents and others an opportunity to respond to Upper Chesapeake's hospital proposal and the company's request for an exemption from a state certificate of need for its consolidation project.

Upper Chesapeake, a nonprofit medical-management group, is the parent company of the county's two hospitals, Fallston General Hospital and Harford Memorial Hospital in Havre de Grace.

Its proposal calls for building a $44.8 million, 150-bed hospital in Abingdon; closing Fallston Hospital; and reducing the licensed beds at Harford Memorial from 275 to 100.

Harford Memorial would lose its pediatric and and obstetric units to the new facility. Also, 25 of its beds would be for psychiatric patients. The state already has granted permission to transfer Fallston's psychiatric unit to Harford Memorial.

The plan would nearly cut in half the number of licensed beds in the county, from 494 to 250. The commission is expected to make a recommendation on the proposal at its Sept. 13 meeting in Baltimore, which is open to the public.

The most vocal opposition Thursday came from residents in Harford Memorial's area, including Havre de Grace and western Cecil County.

'Save our hospital'

Holding a sign saying, "Save Our Hospital," Gardner McCullough of Havre de Grace was worried about losing the pediatric and obstetric departments. "We use the hospital quite a bit," said Mr. McCullough, who was accompanied by his wife, Pam, and 5-year-old son, Gardner.

"We're 30 years old. We might have another baby," he said. "Now it takes us five minutes to get to the hospital. [With the new hospital], it would take half an hour."

Barbara Gilden of Perryville, in Cecil County, fears that the 83-year-old hospital eventually would be eliminated.

"I'm in a panic. I have my mother living with me," Ms. Gilden said. "If anything happens to her, I would have to go to Union Hospital in Elkton, about 15 miles away."

Constance F. Row, president and chief executive officer of Upper Chesapeake, assured the audience that the health system has no intention of closing Harford Memorial. "We intend to keep Harford Memorial the wonderful facility that it is," she said.

"I'm planning to retire from Harford Memorial," said Beth Cyr, chief technologist in imaging, who was wearing one of the many white T-shirts inscribed, "I Support Harford's Hospital."

Regarding the transfer of child services to the new facility, Mrs. Row stressed demographics. "We need to be where the younger families are," she said of the growing Route 24 corridor.

The new site would be on 26 acres at Box Hill South Parkway and Route 924. Upper Chesapeake, affiliated with the Johns Hopkins Health System, has acquired an option to purchase the property.

"It is the kickoff to a 143-acre, commercial, campus-style setting," said James Lambdin, president of Art Builders Inc., which is jointly developing the property with Ward and Lambdin. The land, owned by Box Hill South Corporate Center, already is zoned for that use.

Chuck Peacher of the Constant Friendship neighborhood in Abingdon said that "there is a need to consider the quality of life of the people who live in that area."

"If I wanted to hear sirens all the time, I'd live in Baltimore City," he said.

James W. Terrell, chief of emergency operations in the county, said he projected 5,600 emergency transports to Fallston Hospital this year.

"I live practically behind the site. The roads are the worst in the county," said Michael Lazarus, who spoke holding his 2-year-old daughter, Lauren. "I'd hate to see an ambulance waiting for Christmas shopping traffic going to Wal-Mart and BJ's [Wholesale Club]."

The stores are at Route 24 and Tollgate Road, across the highway from the Route 24-924 intersection.

"The usage [for the new hospital] is less intense on traffic than the property is currently zoned for," said Mrs. Row, adding that the new hospital would be located across the road from Constant Friendship Shopping Center. "There will be nothing coming through [Route 924] that is not coming through there now."

Fallston closing supported

The one aspect of the plan that did not draw criticism was the closing of 20-year-old Fallston Hospital. "I feel very strongly that we need a hospital more centrally located in the county with up-to-date equipment," said Linda Michel, a Fallston nursing supervisor.

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