4 hospitals agree to share resources in emergencies

Balto. Co. partnership first one in the region

January 14, 2004|By Andrew A. Green | Andrew A. Green,SUN STAFF

In the first partnership of its kind in the Baltimore region, five Baltimore County hospitals signed an agreement yesterday to share resources and shift patients in emergencies, removing legal barriers that could have hindered their response to disasters.

Leaders of Franklin Square Hospital Center, Greater Baltimore Medical Center, Northwest Hospital Center, St. Joseph Medical Center and Sheppard Pratt Health System said that liability concerns, different protocols and separate billing structures could have delayed or precluded them from helping each other. Now, if one of the five is overwhelmed by mass casualties, others can send doctors, nurses and supplies without waiting to work out the details.

"In a major disaster, you're not going to have time to call and make sure all the nurses are credentialed, all the doctors are licensed and all the surgeons are really surgeons," said Peggy Savino, a nurse and the emergency preparedness coordinator at Franklin Square.

Similar agreements are in place in Montgomery and Prince George's counties, and in Washington and Northern Virginia.

The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 were a major impetus for the Baltimore County agreement, which was negotiated during the past several months with the help of Baltimore County's Office of Emergency Management and Health Department. But hospital officials said they could foresee it being used for lesser disasters and as a precursor to other cooperative arrangements.

GBMC President and Chief Executive Officer Laurence M. Merlis said the hospitals hope to expand the agreement to include hospitals in the city and other major institutions, such as Towson University.

Officials said yesterday that recent events show how important the agreement could be.

For example, if Tropical Storm Isabel had caused a large number of casualties in September, Franklin Square, the only medical center on the county's east side, could easily have been overwhelmed, Savino said.

John K. Tolmie, president and chief executive officer of St. Joseph, said that last month's water main break, which severed service for several hours to a large swath in the central part of the county, could have caused major problems for the three Towson-area hospitals.

Julie Hoffman, a vice president at Prince George's Hospital Center who helped work out the year-old agreement in that county, said it hasn't been formally activated. But, she said, when construction workers accidentally severed an oxygen line at Prince George's Hospital, the agreement made it easier to borrow oxygen tanks from a sister institution.

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