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Eastern Shore medical center receives regulatory approval

A concept sketch of the new University of Maryland Shore Medical Center at Cambridge, expected to be completed by 2021. (Image from filing)

A concept sketch of the new University of Maryland Shore Medical Center at Cambridge, expected to be completed by 2021. (Image from filing)

University of Maryland Shore Regional Health received regulatory approval Thursday to convert its Cambridge hospital to a smaller facility and to move some of its existing services to the system’s larger Easton hospital.

Shore Regional Health is one of several smaller health systems in Maryland to go through this process, which exempts conversions of hospitals to so-called free-standing medical facilities from the more stringent certificate of need process.

The Maryland Health Care Commission approved requests Thursday to exempt the project from the certificate of need process.

The project will close University of Maryland Shore Medical Center at Dorchester, Dorchester County’s only hospital, and convert it to a free-standing medical facility with an emergency department including behavioral health services.

These new facilities are essentially free-standing emergency rooms that can also include things like observation beds and other rate regulated services. Shore Regional Health’s initial plan called for 10 observation beds but after conversations with the health care commission’s staff that plan was reduced to six beds.

The new facility would be about one mile down U.S. Route 50 from the current hospital, opening more space for Cambridge’s ongoing waterfront redevelopment efforts. The plan is to sell the land back to the city and the county.

The Dorchester hospital will send 29 beds to the University of Maryland Shore Medical Center at Easton. The beds sent to Easton will be part of the current hospital once the new Cambridge facility opens.

That facility, which is undergoing the full certificate of need process for a new $350 million hospital building, will become the hospital hub for the Eastern Shore’s mid-Shore counties.

The new Cambridge medical center, called University of Maryland Shore Medical Center at Cambridge, will be on the first floor of a two-story building.

The facility will have 22 emergency treatment spaces and six observation rooms in its emergency department. The second floor of the building will house medical offices.

The cost of the entire building is currently estimated at $60.4 million.

The converted medical facility is expected to open summer 2021 while the new Easton hospital, pending approval, is planned to open 2024.

Shore Regional Health is not the only Maryland health system to go through the exemption process to convert existing hospitals to the smaller medical facilities.

University of Maryland Capital Region Health received commission approval last year to convert Laurel Regional Hospital to a free-standing medical facility. University of Maryland Upper Chesapeake Health has requested an exemption to convert Harford Memorial Hospital in Aberdeen into a free-standing medical facility.

The belief is that these smaller facilities will help health systems become more efficient as admissions decline. The state’s all-payer contract with the federal government has encouraged health systems to find ways to treat more patients outside of the hospital, reducing costs.

This has become particularly useful for these three systems, which are affiliated with the larger University of Maryland Medical System. They can use their connection to the flagship University of Maryland Medical Center to treat the most serious cases where it is most appropriate.

“We recognize that as a community hospital system on the Eastern Shore, we should have limitations to the level of care that we provide,” Ken Kozel, president and CEO of Shore Regional Health, told The Daily Record last year. “We shouldn’t be doing open heart surgeries on the Eastern Shore.”

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