CECIL TIMES RETURNS: Health and Hospitals, Geography and Gratitude

February 27, 2018

It’s been a few months since Cecil Times posted on our website, or on Facebook, but the radio silence wasn’t an abandonment of the role CT has played for the past eight years as an independent voice in our local conversations about Cecil County and Maryland government, politics and assorted oddities. Sometimes real life has a way of taking center stage in one’s time and priorities.

A close family member has struggled with a serious medical diagnosis, hospitalization, surgery and recovery and we were along for the journey as caregiver, medical appointment note-taker, WebMD researcher and even a nervous time as home injection-giver. Much of the past few months is a bit of a blur by now, as we celebrate the positive outcome. There is still a belated and unrelated problem, discovered in follow-up medical testing, that will require another surgery soon but we are assured by some of the best medical experts that this outcome, too, will be positive.

Living in Maryland, we are blessed with some of the best, world-class medical diagnostic and treatment options available just a short drive away. The Johns Hopkins University Hospital was our savior and supportive guide on our journey, led by a renowned specialty surgeon whose compassion was only matched by his surgical skill. His services are so in demand it can take months to get a surgery scheduled, but he decided the surgery was so imperative he juggled his time to perform surgery on a Saturday morning within days of the confirmed diagnosis. His team of residents, interns, anesthesiologists, physician’s assistants and nurses provided excellent care, answered all of our many questions and never wavered in their dedication, even as we coped with some complications along the way.

During two weeks in the hospital, we were impressed by some of the other patients and their families, international patients who had traveled from around the world as well as locals, that we met. Quite a large number came from the Eastern Shore.

Obviously, there is nothing comparable to Johns Hopkins care on the Shore, where mid-Shore hospitals have faced consolidation and potential closure as the University of Maryland Medical System has taken over several facilities, including the Chestertown hospital that serves Kent County and some residents of southern Cecil County. After intervention by members of the General Assembly and establishment of a special rural health care commission to review health care delivery in rural areas of the state, the Chestertown facility has won at least a temporary reprieve to keep a small number of inpatient beds, instead of being converted to an emergency room only facility.

Union Hospital in Elkton recently announced it will merge with the LifeBridge consortium, led by Sinai Hospital in Baltimore, while retaining a significant level of local control, including its own board and fundraising receipts. Given the voracious appetite for total control exhibited by UMMS in its dealings elsewhere on the Shore, Union’s action makes sense from the perspective of keeping decision-making in local hands. But the move leaves up in the air previous moves to bring better services and levels of care, such as the UMMS specialized cancer treatment services, to Elkton.

For lifelong local residents who were accustomed to getting all their care at Union, the changes may seem unsettling. For others not worried about driving an hour or two to get the best care that could never be offered at a small community hospital like Union, the changes are irrelevant. Under Maryland law, a patient can request transfer to another hospital even after admission to another facility.

A childhood friend, who is also a retired physician, recently underwent a life-saving organ transplant at the University of Maryland facility in Baltimore, after several other transplant centers around the country turned him down. He doesn’t live in Maryland and gratefully travels long distances for his follow-up care in Baltimore.

A close relative was looking for a place to retire far from the snowy winters of his Baltimore-area current home. Reminded of the several times that Johns Hopkins saved his life and eyesight, he reconsidered and now won’t leave Maryland as a permanent retirement home or give up the regular follow-up services he receives from Hopkins specialists. Airplanes and condo rentals for a few weeks can take care of the winter blues. (And if disaster strikes, Hopkins can arrange medical transports to Baltimore.)

So count us as grateful for living in Maryland, grateful for Johns Hopkins and especially grateful for the dedication and expertise of the medical professionals who give us the opportunity to watch yet another sunrise over the Chesapeake Bay.

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