GBMC wing approved by commission

4 operating rooms and a new ER slated in 3-story addition

Two-phase project

Existing hospital to get renovation of 70,000 square feet

October 19, 2001|By M. William Salganik | M. William Salganik,SUN STAFF

The Maryland Health Care Commission approved yesterday a $35 million addition and renovation project at Greater Baltimore Medical Center that will bring a new emergency room and four new operating rooms to the Towson hospital.

Plans for the three-story addition, to be built over four years, were approved without debate.

The panel also approved adding coverage of hearing aids for children to the standard health insurance package for small employers, but rejected several other new benefits, saying it wanted to keep the coverage affordable.

Laurence M. Merlis, president and chief executive of GBMC, said in an interview that the construction is not being undertaken to add new programs or inpatient beds, but to "continue to meet the needs of the community at a time when there is increasing demand for our services."

For example, he said, the number of emergency room visits - now 52,000 a year - has increased by 25 percent over the past four years. The four new operating rooms will bring the total at GBMC to 34. The hospital does more than 31,000 surgeries a year, Merlis said. And it will convert 12 inpatient beds to critical care, adding to the hospital's total of 48.

In all, plans call for 90,000 square feet of new construction and 70,000 square feet of renovated space in the existing hospital. Merlis said groundbreaking should come in about a year. The new construction will be completed before the renovation begins. The whole project is scheduled for completion in October 2005. Financing is to come from bonds and from the hospital's cash reserves.

While planners believe that Maryland has excess hospital beds - and generally don't approve projects that add new ones - many hospitals have enlarged their emergency rooms and made other improvements.

GBMC could have avoided regulatory review of the project, but only by promising not to seek an increase in the rates it charges as a result of the capital costs.

Barbara McLean, acting executive director of the commission, said that for the past several years all hospitals had taken "the pledge" not to raise rates, but this year, about half a dozen have chosen increased regulatory scrutiny of their plans in order to keep open the possibility of seeking a rate increase later.

The commission took a cost-conscious view of the health insurance policies it regulates for employers with fewer than 50 workers. Such policies cover nearly half a million Marylanders. Each year, people ask the commission to add benefits.

"Every time we have this decision to make, there have been very compelling presentations by providers, patients and parents, and the commission always has a difficult job of balancing these against our affordability guideline," said one commissioner, Marc Zanger. He said the commission has "an enviable record" of declining to require additional benefits, although "it's hard for me to have to say `no' so many times to so many well-deserving presentations."

The commission rejected a request to cover surgery for obesity.

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