Council Officially Commits Funds To AGH Capital Campaign

OCEAN CITY — As anticipated, Ocean City officials this week agreed to contribute $500,000 over the next five years to the Atlantic General Hospital (AGH) capital campaign including the expansion of the emergency room and associated facilities.

Last week, AGH President and CEO Michael Franklin presented the hospital’s annual update to the Mayor and Council, including some of the highlights of the ongoing $35 million capital campaign to improve the community hospital. Along with a new regional cancer center, the hospital’s million capital 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.

Franklin and AGH Foundation Board President Todd Ferrante last week asked the Mayor and Council to renew their commitment to the hospital capital campaign at $100,000 per year for the next five years. AGH officials pointed out, among other things, just how important the hospital’s emergency room in close proximity to the resort saved the town money and resources.

For example, 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 in close proximity to the resort areas, many of those emergency patients would have to be transported to other regional hospitals, such as Peninsula Regional Medical Center (PRMC).

AGH officials also pointed out having the 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, 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.

Last week, the Mayor and Council tacitly approved the AGH funding request at $100,000 a year for five years, but did not vote on a motion on the floor in the interest of gathering more information on the fiscal impact of the emergency room, and additional information on a potential funding source.

During Tuesday’s work session, City Manager Doug Miller agreed the town should make the requested contribution, but suggested it be earmarked for the ER improvements.

“As you know, last week we had the hospital here and they asked for a pretty sizable donation, initially for the new cancer center,” he said. “I would submit to you all that we get more direct benefit for all four of our constituencies from the emergency room. Whether you are a visitor, a resident, or a non-resident property owner, you will use the emergency room at AGH.”

Budget Director Jennie Knapp told the Mayor and Council she had explored the possible funding sources for the contribution.

“I do believe the $100,000 for this year’s contribution can be found by recognizing revenue by the time the budget comes around, or by cuts on the expense side,” she said. “Going forward, we’d like to reserve $400,000 out of the current fund balance and take $100,000 out each year during the budget. If would be set aside as a reserve similar to what you do with reserves set aside for potential catastrophes in town.”

Councilman John Gehrig made the motion to approve the requested funding for AGH subject to appropriation during budget deliberations.

“We went through the math on how the emergency room certainly saves us money,” he said. “We do have the fund balance and we agree it’s a community service that saves us money.”

Councilman Wayne Hartman seconded the motion, reiterating the AGH emergency room benefit for the town of Ocean City.

“The thing that really makes this stand out and apply is the fact that it is for the emergency room,” he said. “That information sent to us after the AGH presentation at the last meeting shows we’re doing the right thing with this.”

The council voted 5-0, with Council President Lloyd Martin and Councilman Tony DeLuca absent, to approve the AGH funding request at $100,000 per year for the next five years. In what has become a recurring theme in recent weeks with the town involved in a lawsuit with Worcester over the tax differential issue, Gehrig could not resist pointing out the doubling effect of Ocean City’s contribution to the hospital.

“I know the county also made a contribution,” he said. “Do we know what that was? I hate to keep saying this every single time, but 60 percent of what the county contributed came from our taxpayers. The public needs to know that and the county really needs to know that, so we’ll keep saying it over and over.”

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.