Hospital to open wing for children $900,000 facility to have its own emergency room

Expected to treat 6,000

Construction may start as early as this summer

June 19, 1996|By Ivan Penn | Ivan Penn,SUN STAFF

In a continuing effort to expand services for a booming community, Howard County General Hospital plans to open a $900,000 pediatric facility early next year, with its own emergency room, four-bed inpatient area and 23-hour observation area.

Plans for the pediatric facility come as the hospital opens its $12 million Center for Ambulatory Surgery -- a 24,000-square-foot unit for outpatient testing and treatment. A ribbon-cutting ceremony was held Monday night for the 2-week old center.

"To be competitive we think we need to serve the entire family," said hospital President Victor A. Broccolino, who expects the planned pediatric unit to treat 6,000 children a year. "We served the pediatric community for years, but not with a dedicated pediatric unit."

No date has been set for the pediatric unit to open, although hospital officials hope to have it open during the first quarter of 1997. Construction could begin as early as this summer.

Since the early 1990s, Maryland's community hospitals have been seeking ways to compete with less-expensive outpatient service facilities to which many patients have been directed by cost-conscious insurance companies.

With increased competition and a shift in the medical industry to shorter hospital stays, Howard County General saw its occupancy rate drop from 81 percent in 1990, to 64 percent during the 1995 fiscal year, which ended last June. During the first 11 months of this year, the hospital's occupancy rate rose to 67 percent.

Hospital officials believe that Howard County General will continue on an upswing as long as they diversify services and offer competitive rates -- the challenge that most community hospitals in the country face.

"What you're seeing in Howard County is very consistent with the kind of evolution going on throughout the state and the nation," said Nancy Fiedler, spokeswoman for the Maryland Hospital Association.

"Hospitals throughout Maryland are responding to the varying community needs largely prompted by changes in technology and, secondly, by the issues related to controlling cost," Fiedler said. Howard "is a major growth area. Obviously, their needs have changed."

Howard County General -- which has a budget of $78 million for the 1996 fiscal year ending June 30 -- expects a profit of about $4 million this fiscal year. Last year, the hospital had a $76 million budget and $3.5 million in profits.

To further the hospital's success, officials want to provide comprehensive treatment for children.

Broccolino said the number of births annually in Howard appears to be leveling. But the county still had the fourth highest birth rate in the state as of 1994 -- about 15.6 babies for every 1,000 people, according to the latest statistics from the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

So far this fiscal year, the hospital has had 2,565 births. During the last fiscal year, 3,123 babies were born at the hospital.

"We need to be able to look after those children as they grow," said Jack Whiteside, chairman of the hospital's board of directors. "We need to have more pediatric care."

Hospital officials began seeking state assistance last year. During this year's General Assembly, legislators passed a bill to raise $450,000 in bond money for the pediatric unit. The legislation is awaiting Gov. Parris N. Glendening's signature. He is expected to sign the bill. The bill requires the hospital to raise the remaining $450,000.

The pediatric facility would be on the north side of the hospital in west Columbia's Hickory Ridge village. The hospital plans to renovate an area that now is used for administrative and support offices.

Broccolino said the pediatric facility would likely provide most of its treatment through emergency services. But he believes the 23-hour observation area -- a unit designed for injured or ill children who don't need to stay in the hospital overnight but might need to be watched for several hours -- will be popular.

"I think parents will really appreciate it," Broccolino said.

Children also will receive treatment at the Ambulatory Surgery Center, which is in a separate building on the hospital's Hickory Ridge village campus.

The high-tech Ambulatory Surgery Center -- with its laser treatment center and video cameras used for operations -- is now the site of all outpatient testing and treatment. More than 20 people a day already have been treated at the center.

The 31-worker center, managed by Aspen Health Care, based in Boulder, Colo., will set its rates based on the market.

Patients at the Ambulatory Surgery Center are likely to find rates for services lower than they did at the hospital because rates at the center are not controlled by the state, said Lucie Owens, principal with Aspen Health, who is overseeing the new center.

The state sets rates for services performed inside the hospital, which cannot be negotiated, according to the Maryland Hospital Association. Costs for treatment outside hospitals are determined by service providers, who can set theirprices and offer more competitive rates.

"Now we really have to be mindful of our costs," Owens said. "We get to negotiate with insurance companies. We want to be competitive."

Pub Date: 6/19/96

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