Commissioner Questions Hospital’s Focus On Expansion

SNOW HILL –  An annual report from Atlantic General Hospital prompted concerns regarding growth and funding from county officials this week.

On Tuesday, Atlantic General Hospital (AGH) President and CEO Michael Franklin shared the hospital’s annual report with the Worcester County Commissioners. While his presentation provided a broad look at hospital performance and plans, Commissioner Joe Mitrecic questioned AGH’s focus on growth.

“We keep expanding, we keep building, we keep moving, we keep doing all this other stuff,” he said. “Why don’t we concentrate on making the actual hospital that we have right there the best hospital it can be instead of adding all this stuff?”

Franklin kicked off his presentation, which he gives each year to the county and various municipalities, by outlining the hospital’s focus on improving the health of the population while also enhancing patient experience and reducing costs. He talked about strategic initiatives, such as planning an ambulatory surgery center in Ocean Pines, expanding breast diagnostic services and integrating behavioral health in more areas. He also addressed performance, pointing out that AGH was one of the hospitals in the state that had been rewarded through a quality-based reimbursement program.

Following Franklin’s presentation, Commissioner Chip Bertino said that while AGH was building a complex in Ocean Pines, Peninsula Regional Medical Center already had one there.

“AGH is the only one that comes to the county asking for funding,” Bertino said. “Why should the county taxpayers fund AGH, or provide funding for AGH, as opposed to the other medical choices that exist within the county?”

Franklin said AGH was the only health care organization that resided in Worcester County.

“All resources that come into Atlantic General are redistributed throughout Worcester County,” he said.

Mitrecic asked how many satellite offices AGH had in Sussex County. Franklin said there were three.

“We participate in some of the health events up there, but we do not sponsor health events up there,” Franklin said, adding that the hospital did, however, accept a lot of EMS visits from Sussex County because of its proximity.

Mitrecic pointed out that Sussex County did not provide the hospital with an annual grant and went on to say he still heard “nightmares” about the emergency room at AGH. He said he himself had gone to the AGH emergency room with chest pains and had been sent home with a clean bill of health only to be treated at Peninsula Regional later that day.

“I could tell a thousand different stories that I’ve heard but this is the actual one that I lived,” Mitrecic said.

He suggested AGH focus more on providing quality care than expanding.

“As far as us winning awards for the emergency room, getting people in and out fast doesn’t do anything for me,” he said. “Getting somebody out with the right diagnosis and treating them the right way, that’s what’s important.”

Franklin said his presentation had not simply been focused on hospital expansion and suggested the commissioners look more closely at the information he’d provided, including the quality-based reimbursement recognitions.

“We were on the incentive side when there were a lot of penalties distributed …,” he said. “Related to all the other hospitals in the state our performance on the quality side as well as the patient experience side has been in the top 10 percent or you don’t receive awards.”

When asked why AGH didn’t seek funding from Sussex County, Franklin said the hospital did.

“I don’t get to vote on that and make those appropriations,” he said. “All I can do is ask.”

Mitrecic said the hospital’s staff was unmatched but maintained that AGH was trying to expand too quickly.

“I think you’re trying to grow way too fast and we need to concentrate on getting the health care to the people in our community that they need and then expanding,” he said.

Franklin said data showed that people needed better access to care. He said if a patient had to wait two weeks for an appointment with their doctor, they might end up in the emergency room before they saw their doctor.

“If we don’t have enough physicians in our community to provide that necessary access, that creates another problem,” Franklin said. “We’ve got to have a balance between having enough providers, expanding to meet the needs by having access to health care services, as well as making sure that when they get there they’re getting the right care.”

Commissioner Bud Church said he was sorry Mitrecic had a bad experience recently at AGH but said he’d had bad experiences at other hospitals.

“It can happen at any facility,” Church said. “There are occasions when things may be misdiagnosed but that happens across the board.”

About The Author: Charlene Sharpe

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Charlene Sharpe has been with The Dispatch since 2014. A graduate of Stephen Decatur High School and the University of Richmond, she spent seven years with the Delmarva Media Group before joining the team at The Dispatch.