Atlantic General Presents Annual Report To Council; Officials Discuss Townsend Medical Center’s Flexibility

OCEAN CITY — Atlantic General Hospital (AGH) officials this week presented their annual report to the Mayor and Council, and while some of the focus was on the facility’s many accomplishments, there was not shortage of discussion about some of the challenges during the pandemic.

Each year, hospital officials come before the Mayor and Council to present their annual report. The report typically outlines the many successes of the hospital, including continued growth, the programs and improved patient services and the like, and this year was not different. What was a little different this year was a review of some the challenges, particularly during COVID.

AGH Board Chairman Greg Shockley pointed out during the pandemic, the hospital was under the direction of Co-Interim President and CEOs Dr. Sally Dowling and Kim Justice. Shockley said the new president and CEO search was nearing a conclusion after former leader Michael Franklin’s contract was not renewed, praising Dowling and Justice for their leadership in the interim.

“At some point in the summer, you’ll be introduced to a new CEO,” he said. “Sally and Kim led us through the final push of Omicron. It was a pretty heavy lift for the hospital. We’re proud them and proud of our staff.”

Dowling said the hospital has undergone significant growth with new programs, facilities, and new providers, improving patient care in the community.

“The community support has been overwhelming,” she said. “We’ve been very excited about several important initiatives.”

Dowling said AGH had recently undergone an inspection by the Joint Commission, an inspection that occurs every three years.

“If you know anything about hospitals, you know that’s a big thing,” she said. “It’s the accrediting agency we use. We had it kind of at the end of COVID and it’s always stressful. They don’t give you a score, but if they did, we would have scored 99%.”

Dowling said despite the continued success, AGH is still facing challenges.

“Not to say the last year hasn’t been without challenges,” she said. “We still have challenges with physician recruitment. It’s an underserved area, particularly in primary care. I’m sure you’re aware of the national nursing shortage.”

Certified Registered Nurse Practitioner Craig Mullen spoke of some of the challenges at AGH satellite Townsend Medical Center on 10th Street in Ocean City.

“Ever since the initial stages of the pandemic, Townsend Medical Center was transformed into a clinic that was designed to meet the outpatient testing and treatment,” he said. “Hospital systems had to adapt to meet the demands of five COVID surges. Our team did an impeccable job of monitoring the trends of the variants as they spread around the globe. I am very proud of the motivation of the 10th Street staff. They displayed remarkable flexibility and worked tirelessly.”

AGH Director of Emergency Services Andi West-McCabe explained some of the challenges during COVID at the emergency room.

“The surge of Omicron this fall, especially around the holidays, was the hardest,” she said. “At that point, we weren’t even allowed to have visitors, so you can imagine it was very hard for the patients and their families.”

West-McCabe praised hospital staff for pulling together during the challenges of COVID.

“We were getting while families coming into the hospital to get COVID testing,” she said. “It was overwhelming. At that time, we started to see a peak with Omicron and we had every bed in the hospital filled. How do we keep seeing these other patients coming in that need to be seen. We had a lot of accomplishments along the way.”

Typically, the presentation of AGH’s annual report concludes with a request for funding from the municipalities and the county, but Shockley said that wasn’t the case this year with Ocean City. The funding dedicated last year toward emergency department enhancements was not utilized due to the pandemic, but the project is now back and being planned over the next fiscal year.

“We really don’t have an ask this time,” he said. “You were very generous with the capital campaign and the $500,000 you gave.”

Councilman John Gehrig praised the hospital’s accomplishments, particularly during the pandemic.

“It goes back to how challenging things have been for the last couple of years,” he said. “There is no playbook for what we all went through and you were a true partner.”

Mayor Rick Meehan said the town’s capital campaign contribution was intended to be dedicated to the hospital’s emergency room.

“You haven’t been able to utilize those funds, but you have said you are not coming back until you’ve expended those funds,” he said. “That’s very commendable. We appreciate everything you do at AGH from the nurses to the doctors, all of the volunteers, the technicians and everybody. Please pass that along.”

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.