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What's Up Magazine

Karen Olscamp

Jan 29, 2014 10:57AM ● By Cate Reynolds
When asked about the best day-to-day aspect of her position as president and CEO of University of Maryland Baltimore Washington Medical Center (BWMC), compassion washes over Karen Olscamp’s expression and she replies in a soothing and inviting tone, “The people, the relationships, and how we come together to best serve our community. And I see this every day when I walk the halls.” She continues, “The smiles, the ‘thank yous,’ and even letters and emails. I have two on my desk today from patients thanking the hospital staff. Even during a difficult day when I think I’ve had it rough, I can read the story of someone who’s persevered through an illness and think ‘okay, my day isn’t so bad after all. We’re doing good work here.’”

Olscamp’s natural compassion is apparent the moment you meet her. She has a warm presence and forthcoming knowledge of health care, which she has cultivated into the dream position at the system she has been a part of for more than 25 years. Meeting Olscamp in her BWMC office, it’s easy to sense how devoted she is to the health care industry.

Her spacious and impeccably clean work space features warm cherry bookcases and a desk, on which sits a photo of her husband Richard, to whom she’s been married 23 years and lives with in Annapolis. A conference table is just several paces across the room, and it’s here that we relax and chat about her career, the direction of BWMC under her leadership, and the impact the hospital has had in the local community.

“The early days were challenging,” Olscamp confesses, in speaking on BWMC’s birth (founded in 1965) and subsequent run through the 1970s and ’80s. “We didn’t have the best reputation.” Olscamp joined the BWMC team in 1987 as part of a residency program, while completing her Master of Health Services Administration degree from George Washington University, and shortly thereafter held the position of assistant to administration. She worked hard, earned promotions, and in 2008 was, at last, named president and CEO.

Concurrent to Olscamp’s own growth, BWMC would evolve into one of the busiest hospitals in the state (especially its emergency services department), a credit to the staff ’s efficiency and evolution within the industry. “Care coordination—between primary physicians, specialists, home services, and caregivers. It’s all vital to quality health care and something we aim to facilitate to the best of our abilities,” Olscamp says with conviction. When Olscamp assumed her current position, the hospital was beginning to blossom into a go-to regional hub for specialized health care. Olscamp would help take the system to full bloom.

In the summer of 2008, BWMC cut the ribbon on a $117 million expansion that included an overhaul of the emergency department, a 111-bed patient care building, and a women’s health center with obstetrics. Hospital outreach also was a key tenet to its master plan and in 2009, BWMC Health Services at Arundel Mills was born. Less than two years later, Olscamp would oversee the next major project, a $31 million surgical suite expansion, completed in September 2011.

Today, this hospital system is a health care juggernaut. BWMC’s emergency department alone is one of the busiest in Maryland, serving more than 104,000 patients per year. And the focus on specialty care is ever strong. BWMC is home to the Aiello Breast Center, Pascal Women’s Center, Tate Cancer Center, Maryland Vascular Center, PET/ CT technology, pediatric care, psychiatric care, Joint Replacement Center, Baltimore Washington Spine and Neuroscience Center, Wound Healing Center, University of Maryland Center for Diabetes and Endocrinology, cardiology and cardiac rehabilitation services, endoscopy services, and geriatric services.

“We are committed to many specialties, but especially vascular, neurological, and oncology. And they will continue to be a commitment of ours, as well as integrating medical advancements in technology and information,” Olscamp says.

BWMC also is an economic engine for north Anne Arundel County and the surrounding communities, employing 2,800 residents, making it the fourth-largest private sector employer in the county. And though its footprint and influence is the largest it’s ever been, Olscamp suggests there’s room for growth. “Our job is to serve the most patients in need, the very best way possible,” she says straightforwardly and with an affirming posture. “To that end, there’s always better and improved means within health care—whether it’s technology or expanding services or people—to embrace.”

After thanking Olscamp for her time and exiting the hospital amidst the bustle of a normal day’s activity—including lab-coated doctors shuffling by, technicians pushing X-ray scanners down the hallway, wheelchair-bound patients everywhere, and all of the individuals emotionally connected to them, the parents, children, friends, and caring colleagues—I can’t help but imagine that as incredibly challenging as running this ship must be, Karen Olscamp is more than sincere when she says that a simple-but-meaningful “thank you” from a patient is all the motivation she needs.

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