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News

Atlantic General Hospital marks 20th year

5/9/13 | By Stewart Dobson, Editor; Sheila R. Cherry, Associate Editor

BERLIN — Twenty years ago on May 21, the long and tortuous path to establish a community hospital in Worcester County came to fruition. The opening of Atlantic General Hospital on that Friday saw long-time proponents, political figures, volunteers and business people gather to witness the culmination of years of politicking, planning, fund-raising and, eventually, building the area’s first acute care facility.

It was a triumphant moment made possible by an exceptionally determined group of citizens, especially considering that the effort to give the county its own hospital dates back to 1945.

That was when more than 60 members and guests of the Lions Club attended a dinner meeting at the Atlantic Hotel to announce $105,025 in pledges to the War Memorial Worcester County Hospital campaign.

But that and subsequent attempts to build a hospital failed for a variety of reasons until early in the 1990s, when the Worcester County Commissioners created a citizens group to pursue this goal once again. Members of this assembly came from every area of the coastal community: lawyers, doctors, business people, volunteers, builders, Realtors, retirees, nurses, restaurateurs, teachers and politicians.

The difference then was that all the elements necessary to make Atlantic General Hospital happen came together at the right moment — the dedication of the citizens group, the support of local governments, the generosity of the public and the intervention of a powerful ally at the state level, then Gov. William Donald Schaefer.

Altogether, the public donated some $4 million to the cause, while governments contributed $12.5 million. AGH volunteers, with the help of friends from across the state, also hacked their way through a jungle of regulations in order to receive permission to build.

From blurry concept to blueprints to a fully functioning facility, AGH has continued to grow over the past two decades, not just in the numbers of people served or the size of its staff, but technologically as well.

The hospital, which serves more than 117,000 patients per year from Selbyville, Del. to Pocomoke, has made electronic medical records integration one of its strategic initiatives and improving the quality of its services a core principle.

President and CEO Michael Franklin said at the hospital’s anniversary banquet on May 2 that part of the celebration was to commemorate “the good quality work that people do here.” He told the audience of roughly 150 employees, executives and dignitaries that the staff at AGH performed “some of the best quality care you can find anywhere.”

Franklin was keen to highlight technological advances that he said had helped shorten anesthesia, antibiotics and emergency care wait times, improve quality and efficiency of medical and surgical care, and expedite the healing of wounds.

But he also said that the evolving focus of the hospital was to minimize the need for acute care in the first place. “If you need us, we are here,” he said. “But we are going to help you to not need us.”

To that end, Franklin recognized several staff members whose diligence had allowed the hospital to achieve major improvements in infection control and pharmaceutical safety.

Jane Hwa-Huang, received the “Patient Safety Ambassador Award,” which is presented each quarter to staff members who have identified and reported a potential patient safety risk. Franklin said Haw-Huang and two of her interns, University of Maryland Eastern Shore pharmacy students Mike Geesaman and Bangura Sarian, identified an error in the pharmacy computer system that would have allowed patients to receive a duplicate of a particular medication.

“Because of their diligence in identifying and reporting the problem, the hospital is able to avoid such potential errors in the future,” Franklin said.

He also recognized the Housekeeping Department staff, whose work has led to a major increase in the satisfaction level of patients and whose clean-down techniques in hospital rooms had helped the facility to decrease the likelihood of hospital borne infections.

Hugh Cropper, chairman of the Quality Committee, said “Every contribution of every employee makes a difference for the quality of service we provide.”

Franklin also expressed his appreciation for the hospital’s 360 volunteers, who he said provided services worth a value of $600,000 annually.

Melanie Pursel, executive director of the Ocean City Chamber of Commerce, was on hand to present Franklin with a certificate of excellence for the hospital’s 20 years of providing service to the community.

John H. “Jack” Burbage, Jr., chairman of the AGH board of Trustees, called AGH, “The best small hospital in the United States.” He said he was proud to be a part of it and remarked that when the institution had opened it was “under budget and on time.”

AGH began as a 62-bed hospital and remains so today, but many of expansions and improvements have been instituted over the years, the latest of which is an expanded and renovated cafeteria.

Ten years ago, the original small emergency room was expanded when the hospital added 33,000 square feet of space. In 2008, the AGH campus gained the 42,000 square-foot James G. Barrett Medical Office Building.

But back in the early 1990s, as those initial advocates organized in pursuit of what everyone knew, but would not acknowledge, was a long shot, they could not have envisioned what their efforts would bring about.

That $27 million project, which opened with a staff of fewer than 30 physicians and 200 employees, became an economic engine with nearly 200 physicians, 800 employees and an annual payroll of more than $30 million.

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