AGH Presentation Focuses On Pandemic Response

OCEAN CITY — Atlantic General Hospital officials made their annual presentation this week to the Mayor and Council, but the focus was more on the challenges of the last year than the typical nuts and bolts information.

Each year, Atlantic General Hospital (AGH) makes a presentation to the Mayor and Council, outlining the successes and challenges from the prior year, including new innovations, new staff, new facilities and financial data. Ocean City each year typically makes a significant contribution to the hospital and the annual presentation is a means of showing the town what it is getting for its investment.

This year, however, because of COVID-19, the presentation focused more on the challenges the hospital faced, how it continued to provide high-quality care in the midst of a pandemic and how it adjusted on the fly to the almost-daily changes during the crisis. AGH President and CEO Michael Franklin led off by telling the Mayor and Council they could expect a little different presentation this year.

“We’re doing things a little differently this year because, obviously, this last year has been very difficult at Atlantic General Hospital dealing with the COVID pandemic,” he said. “We think it’s important to share some of the stories and challenges from the perspective of the Board of Trustees and from the medical staff.”

Franklin turned the presentation over to AGH Board of Trustees representative and Foundation Chair Todd Ferrante, who praised all involved at the hospital and its growing campus.

“We’re all aware 2020 was an incredibly difficult year for everybody, but none more than the healthcare industry and the stress and strain put on their families as they put their life on the line to work for the health and safety of others,” he said. “Their dedication and tireless work does not go unnoticed and they handled it with so much grace throughout this past year.”

Ferrante praised the hospital staff from the doctors and nurses to the support staff and everyone in between.

“They’ve been a pillar of strength for our community and we are so grateful for all of the work they’ve done,” he said. “To our caregivers and everyone associated with Atlantic General Hospital, we really appreciate everything they did.”

Ferrante thanked the Town of Ocean City for its continued generosity and support, but also the entire community.

“Not only are we grateful for your continued support, but we wanted to share with you just how blessed Atlantic General Hospital is to be located in the midst of a community that’s amazing,” he said. “We have thoughtful, caring people and we are overwhelmed by the generosity of our neighbors. I am astounded by the strength and character of our community when faced with adversity.”

AGH Vice President of Medical Affairs Dr. Sally Dowling spoke more about the specific challenges the hospital has faced over the last year as the pandemic wears on.

“A year ago, COVID came and changed everything,” she said. “Patients were afraid to come in to the hospital, and we came up with different ways of treating patients. It was a difficult year as you can imagine, but our hospital has done a wonderful job.”

Dowling explained how AGH was able to stay out in front of the pandemic by altering facilities, changing the way patients were treated and other innovations. For example, even before the pandemic really broke out, AGH created pandemic surge response care areas, including converting ICU space to serve as a COVID-19 ward. Other areas were converted as an overflow area for non-COVID patients.

A large area of the hospital was converted to all negative pressure rooms with modified, non-recirculating air flow. The Atlantic Immedicare location in Ocean City was converted to a COVID-19 screening center and only recently has returned to its normal operations.

By April, AGH offering video visits with physicians for patients unable to visit the hospital or its satellite officers because of the COVID risk.

Perhaps more importantly, AGH was out in front of new treatments and protocols being offered, including, for example, convalescent plasma, even before many of the major hospitals were able to do so, according to Dowling.

“We were able to provide timely, cutting edge care during a challenging time,” she said. “We were out in front of the new treatments and protocols as a rural hospital, even more so then many of the corporate institutions in urban areas.”

Council Secretary Tony DeLuca praised the hospital for how it handled the pandemic, and had a couple of questions. For example, he asked how AGH operates as a non-profit hospital typically in the red each year due to the disparities between billing and what is actually collected.

“We make sure we are self sustaining so we meet the needs of a growing community,” Franklin said. “There are goals set for hospitals in Maryland and we develop a plan each year to make sure we meet those goals and the needs of the community.”

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.