West County may lose hospital emergency room

April 05, 1995|By Shirley Leung | Shirley Leung,Sun Staff Writer

West County residents will lose their closest emergency room if Kimbrough Army Community Hospital is downgraded to a clinic, hospital officials told residents yesterday.

The Fort Meade hospital, which would be reclassified under a Department of Defense military reduction plan, recorded 22,622 visits to its emergency room last year.

Lt. Col. Steven Markelz, the Kimbrough administrator, explained to residents yesterday that national hospital accreditation regulations prohibit an emergency room at a medical facility that does not also provide in-patient care.

The news did not go over well with about 150 people who packed the Kimbrough dining room to talk with an aide to the Base Closure and Realignment Commission (BRAC). Nor was it well-received at the nearest Anne Arundel hospital, which would be forced to handle Kimbrough's emergency room cases.

"We would be hard-pressed to absorb all that volume," said Dr. Richard Fields, director of emergency services at North Arundel Hospital, which is 15 minutes away.

The Glen Burnie center emergency room already expects to handle about 54,000 visits this year, he said.

The Department of Defense recommended last month that the 36-bed hospital be downgraded to a clinic, which would allow the Army to trim 130 military and civilian jobs and save $50 million over 20 years.

That recommendation is being reviewed by BRAC, an independent panel that will drafting a final list by July 1.

David Lewis, the BRAC aide, met yesterday morning with hospital officials and toured the facility before meeting with local families.

Colonel Markelz told residents that except for the emergency room, all other programs could be continued, such as the pharmacy, outpatient clinic and same-day surgery services. Patients requiring hospitalization could go to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Bethesda, which is 45 minutes away.

"This hospital has taken good care of me," said Alfred Shehab, 75, a retired Army lieutenant colonel who has been coming to Kimbrough since 1960. "Here, I'm a person. The factory down there called Walter Reed, they call you a number. I'm bloody not a number yet."

The loss of an emergency room would mean higher medical costs for military family members and retirees because military health care coverage pays for about 80 percent of the cost at civilian hospitals, said Kimbrough officials.

Many community members also wanted to know if military officials had considered how the downgrading of the hospital might affect Fort Meade's retired military community. Kimbrough serves about 10,000 people 65 and over, according to hospital records.

"All my married life I have been taken care of by the military," said Irmgard Davis, 72, a former president of the Retired Officers' Wives Association. "For me to go outside is like being on strange territory. I just feel comfortable here. If I had a chose between this and a civilian hospital, I'd take this one anytime."

Charles Rothstein, 76, a retired colonel, complained that the government was overlooking those who served in the military. "When we were active we were held accountable. Now we're retired, we're expendable."

During the 90-minute meeting, Mr. Lewis offered little comfort to the community.

"I apologize I can't give you answers. My role is to field your questions and hear your concerns," he said.

Representatives from the congressional delegation also attended the meeting. But the senators and congressmen do not plan to make a formal statement about Kimbrough until a June meeting with BRAC members, said Michael Morrill, an aide to Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski.

District 4 Councilman Bert Rice also attended the meeting and believed that the community made a persuasive argument.

"I think they made a good strong case to maintain the hospital facility," Mr. Rice said. "If that shouldn't happen, we're going to battle big time for a full-on clinic. But it's not over."

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