Hospital aims for larger Harford market Bel Air site replacing Fallston General

Health care

September 11, 1998|By M. William Salganik | M. William Salganik,SUN STAFF

When Fallston General Hospital was built 25 years ago, it had 160-square-foot, semiprivate patient rooms that shared bathrooms.

Next week, ground will be broken for Upper Chesapeake Medical Center in Bel Air, a new hospital that will replace Fallston General. It will have private rooms that are, at 200 square feet, larger than the semiprivate ones at Fallston General. They'll also have private baths.

The difference between the old and the new tells a lot about the changes in the health care marketplace. An attractive new facility in the high-growth Route 24 corridor and the relocation of some services should draw more patients to Upper Chesapeake Health System, says Lyle E. Sheldon, president and chief executive officer of the system.

Upper Chesapeake, which owns the old and new hospitals, as well as Harford Memorial Hospital in Havre de Grace, provides 48 percent of Harford County residents' hospital care, but is projecting a 58-percent market share after the new hospital opens in two years.

In particular, the system is looking to attract patients by moving its obstetric service from Harford Memorial to an attractive "birthing center" at the new hospital in Bel Air, which will be nearer the county's population center.

"With the type of services we offer, drive time tolerance is about 30 minutes," Sheldon said. "In Bel Air, 80 to 85 percent of the women of childbearing age in Harford County live within half an hour."

Currently, about 4,000 Harford County women a year deliver babies, but only 750 of them go to Harford Memorial. More women choose three Baltimore County hospitals -- St. Joseph Medical Center, Greater Baltimore Medical Center and Franklin Square Hospital Center.

Upper Chesapeake is expecting 1,200 births a year at the new Bel Air facility.

The new hospital also reflects a shift away from inpatient care. It will have fewer beds -- 122, compared with 219 at Fallston General -- but a large, adjacent outpatient center. While spending $60 million on the 220,000-square-foot hospital, the health system will also spend $29.5 million on the 135,000-square-foot ambulatory care center.

And as competition increases for a shrinking number of hospital admissions, the new facility will have an emergency room with roughly double the capacity of the one it replaces.

"Many people's first experience of our hospital is our ER," said Robert Netherland, vice president for planning and business development for Upper Chesapeake Health System. "Fallston's is cramped. It's important to have a facility that projects as good an experience as possible."

The hospital derives about two-thirds of its admissions from patients who enter the emergency room, Netherland said.

Other hospitals in the Baltimore area have spiffed up their emergency rooms and obstetric departments. The other new hospital on the drawing boards -- a new Anne Arundel Medical Center outside Annapolis replacing an old hospital in the center of town -- contains many of the same features.

It already has an obstetric, gynecological and pediatric pavilion and an outpatient surgery center at the new site. The new hospital, expected to open in 2001 after a December groundbreaking, will also include spacious private rooms and an expanded emergency department.

"Quite candidly, we're responding to what the community needs and what the marketplace demands," said Dennis Curl, vice president of property development for Anne Arundel Medical Center.

When the new hospital in Bel Air is completed, Fallston General and its 36-acre campus will probably be sold, Sheldon said. He said it would not be cost-effective for the system to convert it to other medical uses, such as a nursing home.

Harford Memorial, now licensed for 275 beds, will drop to 144. Harford Memorial and Fallston General each has 80 to 85 patients on a typical day, Netherland said. Other than obstetrics and pediatrics, all current services will remain in Havre de Grace.

The system expects no drop in employment as a result of the shifts, Sheldon said.

Pub Date: 9/11/98

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