OCEAN CITY — Ocean City will likely make a significant contribution to Atlantic General Hospital’s capital campaign including the expansion of the emergency room and associated facilities, but a final decision will have to wait at least one more week.
On Monday, Atlantic General Hospital (AGH) President and CEO Michael Franklin provided the hospital’s annual update to the Mayor and Council, including some of the highlights of an ongoing $35 million capital campaign to improve the regional hospital.
The hospital’s campaign includes an expansion of emergency and outpatient services. The plan calls for an increase in the number of treatment areas and a consolidation and integration of triage and protocols for improved patient flow. Also included in the plan is improved patient privacy and comfort along with increased security capabilities.
There were 37,369 emergency room visits to AGH in calendar year 2017, of which 25 percent were identified as visitors to the area. Naturally, most of that 25 percent come from the resort areas including Ocean City. Franklin pointed out without the AGH emergency room near the resort areas, many of those emergency patients would have to be transported to other regional hospitals, such as Peninsula Regional Medical Center (PRMC).
To be fair, many of the major trauma cases are already sent to PRMC. Nonetheless, having the AGH emergency room so close to the resort area clearly saves Ocean City money in terms of emergency services, paramedic crews and equipment. Considered in the equation is the cost of fuel for ambulances, estimated in the report at around $12 per gallon, the cost of a new ambulance, estimated at $285,000 and the cost of additional emergency services crews. According to the report, a paramedic’s average annual salary is $77,000.
“We save the town of Ocean City a tremendous amount of money,” said Franklin. “Otherwise, the emergencies would have to go as many as 25 miles away.”
The point was not lost on Council Secretary Mary Knight, who agreed with the assessment of the value of the AGH emergency room to Ocean City.
“We have four-minute response times,” she said. “To maintain that, how many more crews would we need? How many more vehicles would we need. For anyone who has had a loved one transported to PRMC, that 45 minutes can be torture.”
AGH Foundation Board President Todd Ferrante, in his best good cop, bad cop imitation with Franklin, got to the real meat and bones of the AGH request from the town of Ocean City.
“We need this expansion and we need the support of the community and our municipalities,” he said. “Our hope is that the Mayor and Council renews its commitment for $100,000 per year for the next five years.”
Mayor Rick Meehan agreed the AGH emergency room saves the town considerable money in terms of paramedic crews, equipment, fuel costs, and perhaps most importantly, response times.
“Those cost savings are real,” he said. “This is exactly what was promised when we made a commitment to AGH years ago. We have eight million visitors every year and we have a high-level police department, firefighters and paramedics and lifeguards. The next spoke in that wheel is this hospital. You’ve helped us with that commitment and I support your request.”
Knight made a motion to commit $100,000 to the AGH emergency room expansion in each of the next five years contingent on budgetary approval. While all agreed the renewed commitment to the AGH expansion was a good idea, there were some procedural issues to consider. Councilman John Gehrig said there had been instances recently when significant financial contributions were considered somewhat out of order and not on the agenda without being fully vetted. In those cases, the proposed financial commitments were moved to work sessions for further study and Gehrig suggested that procedure should be followed with the commitment to AGH.
“We just agreed to a procedure,” he said. “This flies in the face of that procedure. If we’re not going to have procedures, let’s not have procedures. We all support it. I just want to follow the procedure.”
Council President Lloyd Martin agreed.
“We have a big budget out there and a big pie out there,” he said. “I think we need to look at this in a work session. We need to figure out where the money would come from.”
Councilman Wayne Hartman said without the AGH emergency room, Ocean City would likely need another three-and-a-half paramedic shifts per week, or the equivalent of 10 people.
“That’s around $800,000 a year, not including any new vehicles, fuel or anything else related,” he said. “It’s a huge asset.”
Hartman asked when a deeper discussion of the commitment to AGH could be considered. City Manager Doug Miller said the discussion of the commitment to the AGH emergency room expansion could be added to a work session agenda on Tuesday. The council voted 6-0, with Councilman Tony DeLuca absent, to move the discussion to next week with the understanding the funding will likely be approved after proper vetting.