Top 10 Stories of 2013: Firsts, lasts, milestones and tragedies

December 27, 2013|RECORD STAFF

The year just ended brought a number of significant milestones, most of them good, to the area covered by The Record. The highlights include a couple of noteworthy sports accomplishments, completion of a major highway project, the end of a couple of eras in our history, the celebration of another and, possibly, the beginning of another of historic proportions.

There were also three tragic deaths at Aberdeen Proving Ground and a bizarre crime story from a year earlier that hasn't gone away.

The following are The Record's Top 10 Stories of 2013:

1 - Local control of hospital ends

The federal Affordable Health Care Act, or Obamacare, might well have been the most polarizing, if not the biggest, news story in the Untied States during 2013.

It also had two big impacts locally, one that was expected and one not so expected, the former being the end Harford Memorial Hospital as it had been known for more than a century, the latter the stalling of an important economic development project for Havre de Grace.

In October, the leader of Harford County-based Upper Chesapeake Health told Havre de Grace city officials the company had put on indefinite hold on its plan to build a new hospital and medical campus on 97 acres it owns next to the I-95/155 interchange.

A year earlier, Upper Chesapeake unveiled a concept plan for the project that showed the new hospital, a replacement for Harford Memorial in downtown Havre de Grace, surrounded by 20 buildings housing clinics, offices, a hotel and retail. The nonprofit also began the city approval process with the intention of breaking ground for the hospital in 2016.

But in an October appearance before the Havre de Grace Mayor and City Council, Upper Chesapeake President and CEO Lyle Sheldon conceded the new hospital and campus project would be stalled because of the uncertainty created by Obamacare.

"When we get a little more clarity on that we'll be back in front of this body," he told council members.

In later statement he said, the "timing of our groundbreaking is influenced by final state regulations that are associated with the modernization of the Maryland Medicare Waiver associated with how hospitals will be paid in the future."

"Although there has been much progress on the modernization [new hospital project] in the past year, there are still many unanswered questions related to how capital costs will be reimbursed under the new regulations," he said.

On the plus side, Upper Chesapeake did complete and open its new $61 million Patricia D. and M. Scot Kaufman Cancer Center on its Bel Air medical campus, giving Harford County residents their first opportunity to receive comprehensive cancer treatment and care in their home county.

Both the Kaufman Center and the stalled Havre de Grace package were the first collaborations between Upper Chesapeake and the University of Maryland Medical System, which agreed to merge four years earlier.

In early December, the merger was completed, and it ended more than 100 years of local control over Harford County's health care system that began in 1910 when a group of Havre de Grace residents founded the county's first general hospital that became Harford Memorial.

With that Upper Chesapeake Health became University of Maryland Upper Chesapeake Health and its two hospitals were renamed University of Maryland Harford Memorial Hospital and University of Maryland Upper Chesapeake Medical Center.

Upper Chesapeake's leadership and its local board also became answerable to University of Maryland Medical System's senior leadership, as the hospitals became subsidiaries of the new parent company.

Though coincidental, Sheldon said, the merger would strengthen the local hospitals position in the age of Obamacare.

2 - Divers down

On a cloudy afternoon in late January, a distress call went out over Harford County's emergency radio system that a diver was "lost in the Super Pond."

That call foreshadowed a devastating year for Aberdeen Proving Ground and the families and associates of three divers who were the first to die while diving in the installation's huge inland underwater test facility built in 1994.

The Jan. 30 death of civilian diver George H. Lazzaro Jr., 41, was followed less than a month later by the deaths of two Navy divers, Diver 1st Class James Reyer, 29, and Diver 2nd Class Ruan Harris, 22, who drowned while training in the Super Pond, known officially as the Underwater Explosive Test Facility.

Despite the death of Mr. Lazzaro, an employee of the Army's Aberdeen Test Center, the Navy divers, who were attached to a command in Little Creek, Va., were allowed to use the Super Pond by the commander of the Aberdeen Test Center.

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