Hospital needs in Harford

September 13, 1994

The intention to build a new hospital in Harford County has been known for a long time. So has the low occupancy rate of beds in the two existing hospitals, and the preference of Harford residents to use hospitals outside the county.

But the sudden selection of a site in Abingdon and the prompt filing for a state exemption needed to proceed with construction of the new facility has upset part of the community, particularly Havre de Grace residents who fear it will lead to closing Harford Memorial Hospital in their city. Upper Chesapeake Health System, which operates Harford Memorial and Fallston General and wants to build the new hospital, says it does not plan to close the Havre de Grace institution. It will, however, eliminate at least 150 licensed beds there, cutting about 270 jobs, reportedly without layoffs.

The nonprofit operator stresses the need for exemption from the time-consuming process of obtaining a Certificate of Need from the Maryland Health Resources Planning Commission. Delay on the $60 million new hospital will further erode the system's image, patient utilization rate and financial condition, Upper Chesapeake argues.

But Maryland's certificate process is important to analyze the need for expensive medical facilities before they are built and the costs passed along to consumers. It forces providers to look at less costly ways to meet goals, to re-examine projections of use and to serve the needs of the community.

Recent objections by physicians prompted Upper Chesapeake to raise the number of beds planned for Harford Memorial from 100 to 125. The system has strengthed its assurances that the hospital will not be closed in the foreseeable future, as 5,900 Harford residents signed a petition to the commission asking that it be kept viable.

The chosen site has not been examined extensively by the state commission; it was announced only three days before the one public meeting held by Upper Chesapeake on the proposal.

These are solid reasons why the Certificate of Need process should be followed -- without exemption but also without delay. Harford County will benefit, and so will Upper Chesapeake, from this method of openly answering public questions and fears. Public trust and confidence is essential for Upper Chesapeake to reclaim patronage from the community, as much so as new facilities.

We urge the commission to reject the exemption request, but to expedite consideration of the Upper Chesapeake proposal.

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