Harford County hospitals do a healthy business

Thriving: Traffic at Upper Chesapeake Medical Center, opened two years ago, exceeds expectations.

October 27, 2002|By Karen Nitkin | Karen Nitkin,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Two years ago, Harford County residents lost an old hospital and gained a new one.

On a single day - Oct. 29, 2000 - patients were moved out of the old Fallston General Hospital, which had been built in the 1960s, and into the state-of-the-art Upper Chesapeake Medical Center in Bel Air.

Then came the surprise.

Officials of Upper Chesapeake Health, the company that orchestrated the move, expected a 10 to 15 percent increase in the number of patients.

Instead, admissions jumped 29 percent the first year, and emergency room visits surged 43 percent, said Bob Netherland, vice president for planning and business development for Upper Chesapeake Health. The demand for outpatient services skyrocketed, too, he said.

"We actually had to add 16 beds on this campus this year," said Netherland, speaking from a seating area in the sun-splashed lobby of the medical center.

The main reason for the increase in business is that Harford County residents opted for the new facility instead of driving out of the county for health-care services. The fact that Harford County is experiencing a growth spurt hasn't hurt, either.

"We have the good fortune to be in a county where the population is growing," said Lyle Sheldon, president and chief executive officer of Upper Chesapeake Health.

Upper Chesapeake Health was formed in 1984 as the parent company of Harford Memorial Hospital. When Harford Memorial purchased Fallston General Hospital in 1987, UCH expanded its presence in the county.

"We look at our role, really, as a community hospital," Sheldon said.

According to Upper Chesapeake Health literature, the organization's mission is to maintain and improve "the health of the people in its communities through an integrated health delivery system that provides high quality care to all."

Nearly all of the patients at the 144-bed Harford Memorial Hospital in Havre de Grace and the new Upper Chesapeake Medical Center are from Harford County, with a few crossing the county line from northern Baltimore County and western Cecil County, Sheldon said.

"We're very community-focused," Netherland said. "The development of all our services is based on meeting the needs of our community."

The centerpiece of Upper Chesapeake Health is the new hospital, which features a surgery pavilion, a family birthplace, a cardiovascular institute, and an ambulatory care center. Fallston General is being torn down to make room for housing, Netherland said.

The medical center's 250,000-square-foot hospital features a new birthing center that delivers about 1,300 babies a year.

The Upper Chesapeake Family Birthplace has nine labor/delivery/recovery rooms, 24-hour in-house pediatric care, and comfortable rooms with large bathrooms and a place for family members to spend the night.

It also has six Level II nurseries with capacity to care for up to 10 premature infants, Netherland said. A modern security system keeps track of babies and automatically locks all doors if an infant is not where it is supposed to be.

The spacious rooms in the main hospital are divided into zones for patients, families and caregivers. The caregiver zone has closets that can be stocked from the outside, so patients are not disturbed as medical supplies are placed in the room.

The rooms have accommodations for family members, and the hospital has a 24-hour visitation policy. There is cable television, as well as video on request. Nursing stations between each room replace the typical bustling nursing stations of most hospitals.

Upper Chesapeake Cardiovascular Institute, which provides services in conjunction with St. Joseph Medical Center's Heart Institute, features a modern gym where heart patients are carefully monitored as they exercise, free health screenings and programs, and services such as electrocardiograms, cardiac stress tests and endovascular stent grafting.

The 130,000-square-foot Ambulatory Care Center of Harford County offers magnetic resonance imaging, PET scans, CT scans, and other advanced diagnostic tools. A Women's Imaging Center provides mammograms and ultrasounds, and screens for bone density.

A community health resource center has books, videos, CD-ROMs and other materials that are available to the community during regular business hours.

The medical center is designed to be easy on the senses, and includes such amenities as more than 400 pieces of artwork, ample natural light, an abundance of plants and several outdoor courtyards. A "donor fountain" in the front lobby is surrounded by names of those who donated to the capital campaign that helped raise money for the $37 million project.

"The old facility was so closed and dark," Netherland said.

At 115 beds, however, Fallston General wasn't much smaller than the new medical center, which started out with 120 beds and is now licensed for 143. That means the original plan of having every room as a single has changed, and many are now doubles, Netherland said.

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