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Medical Milestone: As Anne Arundel Medical Center turns 115 years old, its history of community health care continues to evolve

Feb 01, 2017 02:00PM ● Published by Arden Haley

The origins of Anne Arundel Medical Center date back to the early 1900s in Downtown Annapolis. This farmhouse-turned-hospital on Franklin Street, pictured here circa 1910, served as its primary residence for decades before the entire hospital system relocated to its Jennifer Road campus in 2001.

By Gary Jobson

The anxiety in the patient’s hospital room was palpable. Family members struggled to stay upbeat while the patient, an older man, clearly was suffering with a late-stage cancer. Like others that day, I stopped by to visit my ailing friend and watched this tough scene unfold. At the nearby nursing station, a doctor and nurse engaged in quiet, but intense conversation. They were working to ease the patient’s pain while a team of medical experts across campus assessed the medical history to recommend potential treatments. Later, the doctor walked into the patient’s room. We all listened carefully as he suggested treatment options. I was just an observer that day, but the scene was a stark reminder of just how important excellent health care is.
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For most people, Anne Arundel Medical Center is a complex of large buildings viewed from a passing car through a thick row of trees off Route 50 near the Westfield Annapolis Mall. No one really wants to think about a hospital until they need it. And it’s hard to believe that this 100-plus-acre modern, medical campus actually began on the plot of a donated farmhouse in downtown Annapolis.

It was 115 years ago this February when the original hospital opened on Franklin Street as the Annapolis Emergency Hospital Association. From its modest beginning in 1902, the hospital has grown as its surrounding community has, adding new services in new buildings to meet the population’s changing health care needs.

The hospital’s history is marked by several milestones, but none more prescient than the decision by its Board of Trustees in 1983 to purchase more than 100 acres of vacant land off Jennifer Road near Parole. The Board wisely foresaw a time when the hospital would become landlocked in the historic downtown. That important purchase set in motion construction of a new Medical Park campus and a final move from downtown Annapolis in late 2001.

With full disclosure, I now have the privilege and honor of serving as Chair of the Board of Trustees, an all-volunteer organization of 14 members chosen for their expertise and commitment to health care. While the Board meets six times per year, its members devote hours every month to committee work that helps advance the hospital’s mission. It’s at the committee level that we fully engage with staff members and experts in various fields to determine the best recommendations to the full Board. Board members come to meetings having read briefing papers and sometimes massive background material, but their collective wisdom makes for better decision making. Having served on many nonprofit Boards, I find serving as a volunteer for AAMC one of the most challenging and fulfilling roles of my career. Perhaps, it’s knowing that the decisions we make may affect thousands of people today and for years to come.

It is difficult to know what major decisions about the future of health care in our community await us. But the Board has a clear direction, thanks to a strategic vision adopted in 2009. Called simply Vision 2020, the plan calls for fulfilling the needs of the community with a renewed focus on outreach, prevention, and wellness. It underscores AAMC’s mission to “improve the health of the people we serve” and offers a vision of “Living Healthy Together.”

That plan is having an impact. Today, AAMC serves a region of more than 1.2 million people, encompassing Anne Arundel County, as well as surrounding counties and the Eastern Shore. Many are surprised to learn that AAMC is the third busiest hospital in Maryland, which includes:

  • 4,750 employees
  • 1,100 medical staff members
  • 800 members of its all-volunteer Auxiliary
  • 415 beds
  • 26 operating rooms
While priorities in health care change with the times, the Board will be guided by AAMC’s strategic vision. For example, in the past few years the use of opioids and other drugs has caused serious problems for government leaders, citizens, and health care providers. Because of a smart decision decades earlier, AAMC is prepared to meet this challenge. In the early 1990s, the Board spearheaded a partnership with the State of Maryland and Anne Arundel County to build and operate a substance use treatment center just off Riva Road in the County. Today, Pathways—as it was named when it first opened its doors in 1992—serves adolescents and adults with alcohol and drug use issues on both an inpatient and outpatient basis, one of few nonprofit treatment centers in the state.

To address the needs of future patients, the Board has endorsed two new services that require AAMC to seek a Certificate of Need (CON) from the Maryland Health Care Commission. The first has been an open-heart surgery program. The second also represents a clear need: to expand mental health services.

My position as Chair of the Board affords me a unique role in witnessing firsthand both the work—and the wishes—of the AAMC staff. Recently, I spent a full day visiting many of the hospital’s departments with AAMC President and CEO, Tori Bayless. Overall, I witnessed close communication between the staff, patients, and their families.

During my day, which I called a “road trip,” I also was intrigued by how engaged the staff was in community outreach. The holidays were coming up, and there were hundreds of food baskets being prepared. The staff had just concluded a United Way campaign, something AAMC does every year.

Last year, in fact, AAMC provided more than $40 million to benefit our community. Half of this amount was in mission-driven health services, and the rest was used in a wide variety of activities and initiatives including: health professional education, community health services, community building activities, research, cash and in-kind donations, and charity care. Several of the community groups AAMC partners with include: Anne Arundel County Department of Health, The Coordinating Center, the Housing Authority of the City of Annapolis, The Anne Arundel County Department of Aging and Disabilities, Arundel Lodge, Hospice, area hospitals, skilled nursing facilities, and physicians. As CEO Tori Bayless is fond of saying, “Through collaborative relationships, we work toward a mutual goal: helping families live healthier. We can go farther together than we can alone.”

Helping people manage their health issues clearly is a demanding and intimate business. How vividly I recall being told by my doctor in 2003 that I had been diagnosed with Lymphoma. As tears welled up, I responded to the news by asking, “Doc, I don’t know which is worse, me hearing this news, or you having to tell me?” I think he really appreciated my comment. That two-way conversation is always in the back of my mind when I think about the patients at AAMC and why good, two-way communication is so important.

Finally, no perspective on AAMC is complete without acknowledging the generations of supporters who have helped to build, sustain, and advance this hospital. Led by a generous AAMC Foundation Board of Directors, philanthropy plays a critical role in the hospital’s ability to serve many people with many services. Undoubtedly, it will continue to play a critical role for the future.

Admittedly, this is a confusing time in the health care industry. The Affordable Care Act (also known as Obamacare) has enrolled more than 20 million new people in health care plans since 2014, which is good. But, many people are paying far higher premiums as a direct result. Everyone is concerned about their health insurance.

As of this writing, it is unclear what new laws may be passed in the near future, but there is something that will remain constant: the need for high quality, affordable health care in our area.

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