Area Hospital Sets New Income Mark

OCEAN CITY – It’s obvious that Atlantic General Hospital is growing, but it’s the way that it’s growing that could be considered the most groundbreaking.

President/CEO Michael Franklin outlined AGH’s plans for “full electronic integration” in its record systems within two to three years at Monday’s City Council meeting.

According to Franklin, only 12 percent of the nation’s hospitals have fully applied an Electronic Medical Record System (EMR) and AGH’s continuing efforts to achieve the goal of full electronic integration would put AGH at the forefront of a technological advancement that Franklin called “the future of medicine.”

As part of that growing technology, Franklin also described elements of an electronic Intensive Care Unit (ICU) monitoring system that would enable physicians to monitor their patients during overnight hours when staffing is at a minimum, thus reducing costs, alleviating some expenses, all while improving efficiency in treatment and shortening hospital stays.

"There may be some subtle changes that happen at midnight that, if we don’t address until 7 in the morning when the physician comes in, it could make a difference of a day or so in the ICU, which is twice, three times as expensive as being in a regular room,” he said.

Franklin also gave an update on the hospital’s financial growth, citing AGH’s 11th straight year of a positive bottom line, and highest net income ever, which this year exceeded $5.2 million. In FY2007 by comparison, AGH was $2.7 million and in 1998, the net income for the hospital was a mere $565,897.

Mayor Rick Meehan praised Franklin’s work in the community, saying, “I’m not sure what this area would have done had AGH not grown the way that it has and continues to grow. Our population has skyrocketed and AGH has kept up with that growth.”

One of the most effective programs that Franklin said is benefiting AGH on many levels is the “30-minute ER promise,” which assures patients they will be seen within 30 minutes of entering the emergency room. Franklin said that program is running at 94-percent effectiveness and has served as a “great recruitment tool” for drawing physicians to the area.

One of the most intriguing and perhaps disturbing things about Franklin’s presentation was the fact that Maryland ranks as one of the lowest paying states in the country for doctors, meaning doctors are slower to get reimbursed for their services than 90% of the country’s physicians.

“There has been an out migration of doctors from the state of Maryland because this is one of the lowest paying states for doctor reimbursement. In comparison, there is a six-month waiting list to practice medicine in Texas, so that has created a challenge for us as far as recruiting goes,” said Franklin.

Based on AGH’s size, there are approximately 950 hospitals in the country of comparable size, and the average number of ER visits for those hospitals is around 11,000, which is alarming when Franklin stated that the number of ER visits at AGH this year exceeded 35,000.

With that said, hospital beds are not filled to capacity. In fact, Franklin reported that AGH is running at about 60-percent capacity with admissions just over 3,700 for FY 2008.

Franklin said that the hospital’s “campus” also continues to expand and remodel its current look citing the current expansion of the Atlantic Health Center used for pediatrics, family, and psychiatric care.

The Center will have the area’s first out-patient psychiatric care facility, and Franklin hoped to make the expansions to the campus “greener” by creating a walking trail and planting more trees to improve aesthetics, especially for the employees and the residents at the Berlin Nursing Home.