Shore Health System Board Votes to Proceed With Zoning And Annexation For Proposed Site of New Regional Medical Center

Taking a significant step forward on the proposed development of a new regional medical center for the Mid-Shore, the Board of Shore Health System (SHS) has approved proceeding with the next steps under the Memorandum of Understanding with Talbot County and the Town of Easton on the 257-acre site adjacent to the Talbot County Community Center. With the Board’s decision, SHS can begin work on zoning the land and annexation with the Town of Easton. Additionally, the SHS Board has allowed the expiration of its option on an alternate proposed site, located at the intersection of Routes 50 and 404 in northern Talbot County. The site adjacent to the community center is now the only one being considered by the Board. The Shore Health System Board’s decisions have been unanimously supported by the Board of the University of Maryland Medical System. 

While the Shore Health System Board’s vote does not finalize the site selection and is not a final commitment to build a new regional medical center, John Dillon, chair of the SHS Board, noted the seriousness of the Board’s interest in the site. “Although there are many decision points yet to come, this is an important step in a process that we hope will lead to a major new medical facility for this regional community,” he said.

Shore Health System hopes the zoning and annexation processes can begin this month.

Work is also expected to begin soon on negotiating an agreement between the health system, the town and the county detailing the development rights and responsibilities governing the site. Conversations are also underway among the county, the State Highway Administration, the town and the health system to explore the best way to provide access to the site from Route 50 and the possibility of realigning the existing Longwoods Road, which bisects the proposed site.

The health system is targeting fall 2010 to complete and file a Certificate of Need application with the Maryland State Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, whose approval is necessary to develop any new hospital facility. Meanwhile, this fall, the first steps of facility design will get underway, involving staff and physicians in this exciting and crucial part of the process.

“Our employees and medical staff have been enthusiastic about the prospect of a new regional medical center and will be key to its design, development and success,” says Shore Health System CEO Joseph Ross.

In addition to these processes, Dillon states that there are many additional steps to be completed before the Board can make the final commitment to purchase the land and begin construction. Some of those steps include:
• Conducting an archeological survey of the site to determine the presence of any items of historic importance
• Analyzing traffic volumes the medical center is expected to generate
• Developing a workable financing strategy for what is expected to be a $300+ million project
• Developing a phasing plan for the new facility
• Designing the medical center and determining what “green” building techniques will be used
• Securing building permits
• Increasing patient volumes and market share to a level that will support a new and expanded medical facility by expanding outpatient centers in surrounding counties
• Assessing the community’s willingness and capacity to provide philanthropy to help support the project

In addition, the SHS Board will outline a process to be used in planning for the productive reuse of the current Memorial Hospital location in Easton. With so many tasks to be completed, health system officials say the earliest likely groundbreaking for the first phase of the medical center would be 2012.

“In negotiating the Memorandum of Understanding with Easton and Talbot County, and the land option agreements with Talbot County, we required a 10-year time frame on the land option agreements, because we understood that the process of developing a new regional medical center would be enormously complex and subject to potential delays at many points in the process,” Dillon explained. “The important point is that we continue to make excellent and steady progress toward the goal of a new regional medical center campus.”

Dillon states, “The Board recognizes the significant work done over many months by the members of its Strategic Planning Committee, as well as the ongoing support of Shore Health System’s employees, volunteers, physicians and donors, whose efforts make Shore Health System the exceptional organization it is.”

A new regional medical center is part of a strategic plan that was developed by a planning committee of Board members, physicians and management and was approved unanimously by the Shore Health System Board last November. The goal of the plan is to expand a distributed network of health care delivery in locations throughout the Mid-Shore region.

Shore Health System is currently evaluating sites for new ambulatory care facilities and physician offices in Centreville and Denton, and expects to begin evaluating sites in Federalsburg soon. Construction is expected to begin this fall on a freestanding emergency center in Grasonville, with physician offices and ambulatory care services expected to be added at the same location at a later time. The emergency department renovation and expansion is nearing completion at Dorchester General Hospital, where outpatient services such as a Sleep Disorders Center, Regional Balance Center and Outpatient Oncology Services have been added in the past year.

The plan also calls for Shore Health System to recruit as many as 50 additional physicians to practice in the region, including many who will be employed by the health system. In the past two years, 32 new physicians and providers have joined the Shore Health System medical staff. While not all are employed physicians, the practice model of employment is a response to the changing preferences of many physicians and is seen as necessary to recruit and retain some of the primary care physicians and medical specialists who will replace retiring physicians in the years ahead, and to meet the increased demand for physician services that will result from the region’s population growth and the aging of its residents.