Punishing AGH Is Wrong
I hope that I read your newspaper correctly. Am I to understand that our County Commissioners stopped funding our local hospital because 30% of the patients served by Atlantic General’s emergency room came from Delaware? A state a few miles away from AGH? A state AGH intended to serve when the hospital was built? So 70% of AGH’s patients, most of whom are purportedly represented by our Commissioners, therefore need to be punished by cutting AGH’s funding, to teach the State of Delaware and its residents a lesson.
Or is the real reason for the cut Commissioner Joe Mitrecic’s dissatisfaction with the service he or a family member received during a visit? One patient/commissioner was dissatisfied, so four commissioners decide to cut funding. This seems like a good reason to cut operational and long-term campus funding for the other 117,000 patient interactions provided by AGH. No emergency room can meet everyone’s emergency health needs, especially a rural ER which has over 37,000 annual patient interactions. I feel fortunate that my family has always received exceptional service with our AGH ER visits, but AGH cannot be perfect. But four commissioners address Mr. Mitrecic’s service complaint by cutting operational funding for those critical services.
Hospitals are at risk – the procedures and treatments that fund their operations have been suspended during this pandemic. They are financially strapped without revenue sources while they are legally required to care for every infected or hurt person (including every commissioner), without regard to ability to pay.
Our health care workers have endured incredible pressures and risk. We should be thanking them every day. This is not the time to politicize healthcare or AGH, which appears to be precisely what happened. This is the time to come together to showcase our assets. Quality healthcare is a quality of life asset, and something people consider when making a decision about where to live and where to retire.
Commissioner Clarifies Decision On Hospital
Last week a majority of Commissioners voted not to approve an Atlantic General Hospital grant request. I was one of them. Since then, much misinformation has swirled around that decision. If the quotes attributed to AGH president and CEO Michael Franklin in local newspapers are correct, he believes the County did not fulfill a five-year funding pledge. That is not true.
AGH Foundation Board Member Steve Green, publisher of the Maryland Coast Dispatch wrote last week in his popular “Between the Lines,” column that, “The county’s decision to renege on its capital campaign pledge of $100,000 annually in year four of five is appalling.” He closed with, “It’s shameful and sets a terrible example for many of us in private industry who have similar ongoing pledges.”
A Coast Dispatch headline read that the county would not fulfill its capital campaign pledge.
The reality is though, the quotes and headline are inaccurate. The Commissioners never made a pledge to AGH for five years or any other number of years. In February 2017, Mr. Franklin informed the Commissioners that AGH would seek a county commitment for a $1 million pledge to be paid over five years. During its deliberations that year, the commissioners voted not to commit county funds to an ongoing pledge drive but did approve a single $100,000 grant for the Capital Campaign. In fiscal years 2019 and 2020 AGH received one-time grants as well.
Each year Mr. Franklin receives a letter from the Commissioners which reads in part that appropriations, when made to the hospital, are a “one-time” allocation. How the wording, “one-time” can be construed to mean an ongoing appropriation for a pledge commitment is unknown.
AGH is one of many health care providers we’re fortunate to have in Worcester County. Through the years, my family and I have benefited from the services provided by AGH. We have had good experiences.
Last week, Mr. Franklin said that “it is unfortunate that some of the commissioners do not see the need to continue to provide our expanding community with… much needed health services.”
Quite the contrary. The Commissioners are very concerned about healthcare issues for our expanding community. In fact, since 2015 much time and effort has been spent by the Commissioners and county staff to ensure taxpayer funding is properly matched to healthcare need.
We have focused on first line responders, the folks who answer the call when someone in distress dials the county’s 9-1-1 emergency center which is a direct responsibility of county government.
The Department of Emergency Services as well as the Emergency Medical Services and 10 mostly volunteer fire companies are integral to health care in this county and rely heavily on taxpayer funding.
For the past six years, the Commissioners, in cooperation with the chiefs and presidents of the 10 fire and EMT companies, have worked to ensure that funding for these mostly volunteer organizations is adequate to meet the ever-increasing investments necessary to protect and serve our community. From fire trucks to ambulances, protective gear to training, costs are rising. A fire truck can cost upwards of a million dollars; the cost of an outfitted ambulance isn’t far behind. The traditional fundraising sources used by these companies such as oyster roasts, raffles and bike bashes, just can’t keep pace with ever increasing financial demands.
Our volunteer companies struggle to maintain staffing. There was a time when generations of families volunteered at local fire companies. That’s no longer common because intensified training mandates and workplace priorities have reduced opportunities for interested individuals. This has put a strain on recruiting, training and retaining volunteers.
The volunteer companies have begun paying Emergency Medical Technicians so that when an ambulance rolls up to emergency, a well-trained, qualified professional is on the scene. This is not inexpensive. The Commissioners have worked to moderate some volunteer company costs: increased grant amounts, scholarships for new recruit training, higher retirement compensation for service of 25 years or more and higher allocations for ambulance runs.
Emergency first responders are critical and essential to health care in our county. If you or a loved one is in a distressed situation, you want to know you’re in expert hands.
We need to continue working to address holistically the needs of all our fire companies and EMS providers and not take a piecemeal approach.
It was discussed last week that because Sussex County does not provide funding to AGH that neither should Worcester. For me, the actions of another county make no difference on what Worcester County should or should not do.
I sympathize with the disappointment felt by Mr. Franklin and Mr. Green and others because of the Commissioners vote last week. By now I hope they recognize the County never pledged nor made a promise of multi-year allocations.
Directing financial resources to other essential health care concerns within our county in no way diminishes the high regard AGH is held nor overlooks the vital contribution it makes to our county.
This budget year is challenging in ways like no other. The Commissioners are crafting a budget against a backdrop of revenue and expense uncertainty brought about by COVID-19. Despite our best intentions there will be disappointment. For me, in this landscape of questionable revenue projections, it is best that the limited funding available be directed to our emergency responders in EMS, to EMTs and Volunteer Fire Companies. When a person calls 9-1-1 and the siren sounds, we must ensure that the person who answers the call is equipped and trained.
(The writer is Worcester County Commissioner.)
Foolish Lawsuit Against Hogan
Those state of Maryland delegates filing lawsuits against the Governor of Maryland for his emergency orders during the pandemic reflect an extremely selfish and destructive posture.
The government via its elected officials have a constitutional mandate and duty to secure and protect the welfare of the public on both a state and federal level.
These delegates should expect to have their lawsuit dismissed and they should expect being subject to lawsuits themselves for their neglect in not protecting the welfare and safety of the citizens of Maryland.