Union fights Hogan’s plan to close Western Maryland Hospital Center

Unions representing nurses and other healthcare workers at Western Maryland Hospital Center are fighting what they say is Gov. Larry Hogan’s last chance to outsource care to the Hagerstown facility before he leaves office.

The powerful three-member public works board, including the governor, is due to vote Wednesday on fast-track contracts that would outsource key functions at the public long-term care hospital, which treats patients with complex illnesses who have often been turned away from private facilities.

Health department officials said staffing shortages due to the pandemic have made it difficult to sustain the facility at a time when the costs of managing its aging infrastructure are expected to rise.

The contracts that were due to arrive before Hogan (R), Comptroller Peter Franchot and Treasurer Derek E. Davis, who are Democrats, would shift core services provided at the hospital to other facilities on Wednesday, which officials say unions, will eventually close the Western Maryland Hospital Center.

Applications under consideration Wednesday ask bidders to submit proposals for skilled nursing, acute long-term care and brain injury services at a cost of $107 million to $128 million over five years. Patrick Moran, president of AFSCME Council 3, which represents licensed practical nurses, direct care aides, dietary staff, and custodial and clerical staff, said it cost about $125 million over five years to run the hospital.

The union represents about 120 of the hospital’s 200 employees, union officials said. It was unclear how many jobs would be affected.

“This is truly an unfortunate and underhanded way to cut a staple and gem in the Hagerstown and Washington County area,” Moran said.

Mike Ricci, a spokesperson for Hogan, who is term-limited and ineligible for re-election, said transferring services from chronic care hospitals to community providers, from 2022 to 2026, is part of the master plan for administration.

“The state is implementing a public health facilities plan — released more than a year ago after extensive dialogue — to improve patient care and services,” Ricci said in a statement. communicated.

Western Maryland Hospital Center is one of 11 facilities operated by the state health department, with a total of approximately 1,800 beds for psychiatric care, children and adolescents, people with developmental disabilities and chronic care.

The hospital, which opened in 1957, serves adults with complex chronic illnesses and traumatic brain injuries, and it serves as a hospital of last resort when private providers are unwilling to admit patients because they cannot are uninsured, undocumented or require a high level of care. care. The facility is licensed for 123 beds, but it only has enough funds to safely staff 55 beds.

The state health department had previously considered privatizing or closing the hospital, but scrapped those plans in 2016, according to reports at the time.

Rosemary Wertz, field coordinator for AFT Healthcare-Maryland, which represents registered nurses at WMHC, said all state hospitals had staffing issues for decades in part due to uncompetitive salaries, but she acknowledged that the pandemic and rising salaries for travel nurses have exacerbated the problem.

Chase Cook, a spokesperson for the Maryland Department of Health, said the contracts would allow the state to move about 43 patients from nursing homes and acute long-term care to other facilities, in accordance with a 20-year plan that the department submitted to the General Assembly last year.

The report called Western Maryland Hospital Center’s overall infrastructure poor, a result Cook blamed on underinvestment by previous administrations over 25 years. The state’s other chronic care facility, Deer’s Head Hospital in Salisbury, is also rated poor, according to the report.

“At this time, MDH is focused on minimizing potential future major infrastructure failures at this hospital, given its age… which may require urgent actions regarding patient safety and may include purchases of ’emergency ; and ensure sufficient hospital staffing and quality of service for patients,” Cook said in a statement.

Cook said the state would ultimately be responsible for patients and their care.

Aruna Miller, the Democrat running for lieutenant governor on a ticket with Democratic gubernatorial nominee Wes Moore, said if Democrats are elected, they would rescind any contracts that may pass this week. Of the. Brooke E. Lierman, the Democratic candidate for Comptroller, shared a statement supporting the public hospital.

“You can rest assured which side we’re going to be on when it comes to this,” Miller said at a union-hosted virtual press conference. “We want to make sure this hospital stays in public hands because there’s no reason for it to change.”

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