Wyman Park celebrates 20th year as civilian

Former federal hospital is surviving well as Hopkins outpatient unit

May 18, 2002|By M. William Salganik | M. William Salganik,SUN STAFF

Twenty years ago, the federal government decided to close its Public Health Service hospitals - including the one at Wyman Park in Baltimore - which had provided care for generations of military dependents and retirees.

Some of the communities - again including Baltimore - fought the closings. Thus was born Wyman Park Health System, which evolved into Johns Hopkins Community Physicians, an organization employing more than 100 doctors and more than 700 others, caring for nearly 200,000 people a year at 18 sites, and generating $160 million in annual revenue.

Yesterday, in a tent on the front lawn of the Wyman Park campus, military brass mingled with medical brass to mark the 20th anniversary of the saving of Wyman Park hospital.

"This really is an American success story," Maj. Gen. Harold L. Timboe, commanding general of the North Atlantic Regional Medical Command and of Walter Reed Army Medical Center, said at yesterday's ceremony.

In a sense, the story begins not 20 years ago but in 1798, when Congress approved a system of providing care for "sick and disabled seamen," according to the annual report of what is now called the US Family Health Plan. Of the first three U.S. Marine Hospitals built, one was in Baltimore.

Over time, the Marine Hospital system became the U.S. Public Health Service and served not just seamen but military families and retirees. The current Wyman Park facility was built as a Marine Hospital in 1934.

The community "felt very threatened" by plans to shut it, Democratic Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, then speaker of the Maryland House of Delegates, said yesterday.

William H. Parker, 79, of East Baltimore, a World War II Army veteran who attended yesterday's ceremony, said he has been receiving care at Wyman Park since 1956, and "sure was worried" about the closing because he would have had to travel to a military facility elsewhere.

While some Public Health Service hospitals closed, Wyman Park and six others became private institutions that would continue to treat military dependents and retirees. The seven still operate under a program now called US Family Health Plan.

Wyman Park changed identities as well. When first privatized, the hospital was run by a newly created community board.

Ronald R. Peterson, president of the Johns Hopkins Health System, who was a member of the original Wyman Park Health System board, said yesterday, "There was a feeling that it was going to be difficult financially for the private entity, given its size, to go forward in an increasingly competitive health environment."

At the same time, Hopkins was looking to expand. Wyman Park became part of the Hopkins system. Over time, Peterson said, Hopkins merged Wyman Park with other health centers to form what is now called Johns Hopkins Community Physicians (JHCP). The care is all outpatient; JHCP refers patients to Hopkins and other hospitals for inpatient and specialty care.

Over time, JHCP added centers and began treating commercially insured patients as well as Medicaid and military, said Dr. Barbara Cook, JHCP's acting president.

Now, she said, its 18 centers have different patient mixes - mostly Medicaid at two in East Baltimore, mostly commercially insured at centers in White Marsh and Greenspring Station, mostly military at Wyman Park and some others.

The military contract provides about $90 million of the $160 million in annual revenue, according to JHCP.

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