AGH Requests OC Funding For Cancer Center Campaign

OCEAN CITY — In the midst of a significant capital campaign to expand and enhance facilities and improve efficiency and quality of service, Atlantic General Hospital (AGH) made a pitch this week for a $200,000 commitment from the town of Ocean City annually for the community hospital.

On Monday, AGH President and CEO Michael Franklin presented the hospital’s annual community update to the Mayor and Council, outlining the facility’s progress over the last year in a variety of key indicators. Franklin went through a detailed presentation on how AGH is delivering quality healthcare in Worcester County and across the Lower Shore, many of the new initiatives in progress to improve efficiency and an expansion of the entire hospital campus across the region. Franklin also outlined some the hospital’s challenges, which mirror the challenges faced by community hospitals across the state and beyond.

After presenting the hospital’s detailed community update for AGH for 2016-2017, Franklin got around to the crux of the discussion, which was continued support for the hospital’s Campaign for the Future, a $10 million capital campaign aimed at achieving many of the goals outlined in the annual report. AGH is a non-profit community hospital and relies heavily on support from local jurisdictions including Ocean City and Worcester County, for example.

The $10 million Campaign for the Future includes the development of 18,000-square-foot John H. “Jack” Burbage Regional Cancer Care Center. The campaign also includes a modernization of the patient care areas and surgical facilities, comprehensive women’s health enhancements and an expansion of the emergency department and outpatient services. Franklin explained AGH does the best it can with the resources it has, but relies heavily on a strong financial commitment from the communities it serves.

“We’re an efficient hospital,” he said. “We are the lowest cost hospital in Maryland, but we do need community support with our capital investment campaign.”

It’s no secret Ocean City swells to the second-largest city in Maryland during the summer months and with that comes a lot of activity at AGH from the resort area during the season. For example, Franklin pointed out Ocean City accounts for about half of the emergency room visits each year.

“Tourism in our area means 50 percent of our ER visits are from Ocean City,” he said. “We have around 39,000 ER visits each year and about 19,000 are from visitors vacationing in Ocean City.”

Mayor Rick Meehan asked Franklin about the collection rates for billing for AGH compared to the state average. Franklin explained the hospital billed around $156 million last year and received about $115 million.

“We’re right around the state average,” he said. “Our collection rate is generally higher than most states, but we do have a lot of problems collecting from out-of-state visitors.”

To that end, AGH officials got around to the crux of the meeting, which included a request of financial support from the town of Ocean City for the Campaign for the Future capital program. AGH Foundation Chairman Todd Ferrante laid out the hospital’s request from the resort.

“AGH is a non-profit hospital and financial support from the community is needed,” he said. “To date, we have about $2.5 million in grants and pledges and other fundraising efforts, but we’re making a formal request from the town of Ocean City of $200,000 annually. When you take into account the number of visitors to Ocean City, I think it’s important that we have a great community hospital here.”

The Mayor and Council did not take any immediate action on the request and will likely take up the discussion during upcoming budget sessions.

Council Secretary Mary Knight pointed out most property owners in Ocean City and Worcester indirectly support the hospital through taxes and also contribute to the various fundraising efforts. Knight pointed out there could be a vast number of non-resident property owners who are unaware of the hospital’s value to the resort community that could be an untapped financial resource.

“Thirty-four percent of Worcester County taxpayers contribute to AGH annually,” she said. “Maybe we need a blurb in the newsletter somewhere because a lot of our out-of-town taxpayers don’t realize the caliber of hospital we have here.”

While the Mayor and Council were non-committal immediately on AGH’s request for $200,000 annually from the resort, Council President Lloyd Martin said the hospital’s value to the resort community could not be understated.

“The hospital has grown and it’s a great thing to know we have a hospital that close,” he said. “It makes it so much better for everybody, especially with 19,000 ER visits from Ocean City. We need to look out for the people we have here.”

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.