Chester River Health System and Shore Health System Exploring Regional Approaches to Delivering Health Care for Eastern Shore

The Boards of Directors of Chester River Health System and Shore Health System have authorized a joint exploration of the potential benefits of a regionalized approach to the delivery of health care services for residents of Kent, Talbot, Dorchester, Caroline and Queen Anne's counties.

The evaluation of regionalization opportunities is being led by a Regionalization Study Committee composed of an equal number of Board members from each health system.

"The Regionalization Study Committee is guided by the mutually agreed principles that both health systems must continue to meet the medical needs of their communities and must maintain the facilities and medical services that are essential to meeting those needs," said Wayne L. Gardner, Sr., chair of the Board of Chestertown-based Chester River Health System.

"This includes our commitments to continuing to operate Chester River Hospital Center in Chestertown and Dorchester General Hospital in Cambridge as acute care, inpatient hospitals and to build a new regional medical center to replace the current Memorial Hospital at Easton," stated John Dillon, chair of the Board of Shore Health System, based in Easton. Both Board chairs emphasized that the only decision that has been made at this time is to conduct a thorough evaluation of the opportunities a regionalized approach to health care delivery might offer.

"As we survey the future landscape of health care, we recognize that health systems such as ours will face increasing challenges to enhancing clinical quality, assuring patient access and preserving financial strength," explained Dillon

Gardner noted that "preserving the status quo is neither possible nor desirable. While we may not yet know exactly what tomorrow's health delivery landscape will look like, we know that our responsibility as governing boards is to begin preparing for it today."

Among the trends Chester River Health and Shore Health must address are the continuing shift of patient care from inpatient to outpatient settings, and the increasing challenge of maintaining specialized medical services and facilities in a rural setting. Other factors that affect how these systems operate include the implementation of national health care reform and changes in how Maryland hospitals are reimbursed for the services they provide.

The Regionalization Study Committee will focus on the challenges and opportunities of integrating clinical services, combining non-clinical and administrative services between the two systems. Among the topics to be examined is how patients and the communities where they live could benefit if the current focus on individual hospitals were to be replaced with a broader focus on how clinical services are aligned across multiple hospitals in the region.

Other questions to be answered by the Committee are whether a regional approach would better position Chester River Health and Shore Health to recruit the next generation of primary care physicians and specialists; what management and financial integration would be required to support regionalization of care delivery; and what form of integration might work best.

Among the possible solutions the Regionalization Study Committee will explore is how to realign various medical services regionally, especially medical services that require large volumes of patients in order to achieve the highest clinical outcomes. The evaluation will also focus on how to increase access for patients throughout the region to medical specialists, particularly in communities where some medical specialists are needed but not currently available. Consideration will also be given to future facility needs, including the renovation and expansion of the emergency department at Chester River Hospital Center. The Committee will also consider issues such as transportation and the impact on emergency medical services

As the Regionalization Study Committee pursues its work, it will consider the perspectives of Mid-Shore residents, who will be invited to participate through a variety of ways, including town hall meetings that are expected to be scheduled in locations throughout the region in February and March. Similarly, the health systems will gather the perspectives of their employees and medical staffs, as well as the perspectives of local and state elected officials, county health officers and emergency planners and EMS officials.

The Regionalization Study Committee's recommendations are expected to be submitted for review by the respective Boards of the Chester River Health System and the Shore Health System by summer 2012.

About Chester River Health System

The Chester River Health System was formed in 1997 to offer state-of-the-art health care to the residents of Kent and Queen Anne's counties. Chester River Health System, a member of the University of Maryland Medical System, includes Chester River Hospital Center, Chester River Home Care & Hospice, Chester River Manor Nursing & Rehabilitation Center, Chester River Health Lab Services and Chester River Health Foundation. The system provides health care through a network of community-based services and is recognized throughout the community for providing quality, compassionate care with a personal touch.

Chester River Hospital Center, established by community citizens in 1935, is a not-for-profit community hospital which provides inpatient services, 24-hour emergency care, surgical services, outpatient diagnostic services, rehabilitation services, maternity/birthing suites and oncology services. The hospital is staffed by more than 500 employees. The medical staff currently consists of more than 120 active and consulting physicians representing more than 25 specialties.

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About Shore Health System

Shore Health System was formed in 1996 through the affiliation of the Memorial Hospital at Easton, located in Talbot County, Maryland, and Dorchester General Hospital, located in the city of Cambridge in Dorchester County. Both hospitals have served their communities for over 100 years. Today, Shore Health System is a regional, not-for-profit network of inpatient and outpatient services with facilities in Talbot, Dorchester, Caroline and Queen Anne's counties. Shore Health is staffed by more than 2000 employees and a medical staff of 200 primary care and specialty physicians.

In 2006, Shore Health System merged with the University of Maryland Medical System to expand clinical programs and facilities, and to facilitate physician recruitment. The two Shore Health System hospitals have 188 inpatient beds, including the 20-bed Requard Center for Acute Rehabilitation at Memorial Hospital and a 16-bed inpatient behavioral health unit for adults at Dorchester General Hospital. The Queen Anne's Emergency Center near Grasonville, which opened in 2010, operates 24 hours a day, every day, to respond to minor injuries and illnesses as well as to strokes, heart attacks, and traumatic injuries, with seamless coordination when patients need to be transported by ambulance or helicopter to a hospital. The Shore Health System regional network of outpatient services includes primary and specialty physician practices for people of all ages along with diagnostic testing, medical rehabilitation, cancer care, diabetes management, digestive health, home health care and hospice.

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