By Kara Hallissey, Staff Writer
(May 4, 2018) Atlantic General Hospital will hold a 25th anniversary community celebration on Tuesday, May 8, on Healthway Drive in Berlin from 3-6 p.m.
“This is an opportunity for the community to come together for some fun and fellowship in celebration of our 25 years of healthcare,” said Sarah Yonker, director of marketing for Atlantic General Hospital. “This hospital was built for the community, by the community, and we want to thank them for their support.”
There will be heavy hors d’ oeuvres, fruit, cheese, soft drinks and water at the event. In addition, a Frozen Farmer ice cream truck is slated to provide treats for attendees.
“Our young (and young at heart) attendees can have fun in the bounce house, play games, get their faces painted by Lollipop the Clown and visit the petting zoo,” Yonker said. “We will have a knight’s castle obstacle course, a bounce house and games. The petting zoo will include six to eight animals including a red kangaroo joey.”
Attendees can also learn about the hospital’s history, it’s advancements in technology and patient experience, or view 22 hospital and health system department displays as well as the Atlantic General Hospital Foundation and the Atlantic General Hospital Auxiliary.
Commemorative remarks from hospital officials and local dignitaries will begin at 4 p.m. followed by a ribbon cutting for the new Healthway Drive Community Garden.
The garden will increase access to fresh fruits and vegetables for associates, patients, residents and the community, in addition to providing an opportunity to promote healthy lifestyles and educate the community.
“Atlantic General Hospital would not have been able to evolve into the high-quality healthcare organization it has become without the support of the fantastic community we serve,” Yonker said. “We look forward to what the next 25 years will bring.”
In the late 1980s, residents, political officials and healthcare advocates began to push for a hospital in the area since the closest was at least a 30-minute drive away.
The late Dr. Frank Townsend, one of the few general practitioners in the area and a principle player in that effort, lamented the dearth of physicians in the coastal region, while the late Worcester County Commissioner and later Delegate Bennett Bozman and the late developer and businessman Irv Bainum worked diligently to recruit others to the cause.
The possibility of a primary care hospital in the coastal area began to take shape after dozens of proponents formed a corporation and began the arduous process of trying to obtain a certificate of need from Maryland health regulators.
What they had in their favor in this quest was the steadfast support of Gov. William Donald Schaeffer, who insisted that the certificate be granted. The original agreement reached by the corporation, the state and local governments was a three-way split of the $15 million building the hospital would require.
The state would contribute $5 million, if the county donated $5 million, and if Ocean City would commit to $2.5 million, with the remaining $2.5 million to be donated by the local citizenry. It was Townsend’s Aunt Daisy who, in 1991, put the fund drive over the top with a $1 million donation.
Meanwhile, many community members embraced the cause at the urging of the late County Commissioner Jim Barrett.
“A number of people got involved because of Jim Barrett, said Jim Almand, who was on the Atlantic General Hospital Board of Directors for nine years and was chairman for six. “ He enlisted the support of folks to get funding to build the hospital.”
In 1991, public officials, board members and residents gathered for a groundbreaking ceremony.
“There are a couple people who were instrumental along the way and many behind the scenes,” Almand said. “There was a group of people on the board of directors or assisting them with the project of developing the hospital.
“Others focused on raising money in the local community from private donors. The last group had connections in Annapolis and were able to generate support from the governor, mayor, city council and other legislators. This was all getting the approval before it was built.”
Shirley Phillips, of Phillips Seafood, garnered support from the University of Maryland Medical Systems to provide expert guidance. Linda Robbins served as project manager on the board of directors.
In addition, Bainum, who was on the first board of directors, donated most of the land Atlantic General Hospital sits on and financed the legal services to obtain the certificate of need for the hospital.
“There were a lot of people who helped and the first board of directors had about 20 people,” Almand said. “The community support was impressive. I am talking people from Ocean City, Berlin, Snow Hill and Ocean Pines. A lot of people got behind the project to make it successful, including Norm Conway, Maryland Gov. Donald Schaefer and Shirley and (Delegate) Mark Pilchard were a big help.”
Dr. Stephen Waters, who has been the medical director of Atlantic General Hospital for about 15 years, was a part of the planning committee when the hospital opened in 1993 and served as chief of medical staff for two years.
“Before the hospital opened, there were only about five doctors practicing in the area,” Waters said. “There was the ability to come together with the community and build a hospital and continue funding it. The medical staff has steadily improved overtime. It is important to thank the early community members and physicians who gave a lot of time and energy to get the hospital going. My partner in those days, Bill Greer, took calls the first day the hospital opened.”
On May 21, 1993, Atlantic General Hospital opened to the community with 62 beds, a small emergency department and a long-term care unit.
The first year saw 13,316 emergency room visits, which exceeded projections by 10 percent.
“After we got it up and running, the support from the community was what made it successful,” Almand said. “The financial support continued and the foundation kept raising money. Everything kept improving and it attracted great nurses and doctors.”
Atlantic General Health System started with three primary care providers, but now includes 30 physicians in Berlin, Ocean Pines, Ocean City, West Ocean City and Pocomoke in addition to Ocean View, West Fenwick Island and Selbyville, Delaware. They offer primary care, pediatrics, gynecologic services, pulmonary care and imaging services.
“The hospital has always had excellent leadership from the CEOs to the board of directors,” Almand said. “The board has continued to attract smart and dedicated community members.”
By 2004, the emergency department expanded to include 19 beds, and a fast-track area for more minor injuries and illnesses as well as a second lobby, a sleep disorders diagnostic center and additional space for pulmonary medicine and the hospital’s administration, outpatient laboratory and imaging department.
The following year, existing hospital space was used to create the Center for Joint Surgery and the Women’s Diagnostic Center for mammograms, bone density measurements, and minimally invasive breast biopsies.
In January 2006, a groundbreaking ceremony for the 42,000 square-foot, two-story, James G. Barrett Medical Office Building on the corner of Healthway Drive took place. It opened to the public in April 2008 with a Wound Care Center and offices for the diabetes outpatient education program and the Atlantic Endoscopy Center. The location also has Atlantic General Surgical Associates and a women’s health center, a Coffee Beanery, Chesapeake Eye Center and Neurological Associates.
“Atlantic General has dedicated community support, dedicated physicians from all specialty areas, and associates who provide quality care while truly caring about the patients’ and family’s experience,” said Michael Franklin, who has been the CEO of Atlantic General Hospital for more than 12 years.
Last June, there was a groundbreaking ceremony for the 18,000 square-foot John H. “Jack” Burbage, Jr. Regional Cancer Care Center on the AGH campus at the corner of Route 113 and Route 346.
The new center, which is slated to open in June, will offer outpatient chemotherapy infusion, hematology (blood disorders) care, PET scanning, community education, support groups, and hair and skin care support services.
The John H. “Jack” Burbage, Jr. Regional Cancer Care Center will also have telemedicine capabilities and conference facilities.
In addition, there will be Atlantic General medical oncology physicians, radiation oncology physicians and a treatment center on site.
“The hospital continues to grow in size and services,” Almand said. “Quality of care has always been at the forefront and the medical staff is as good as anywhere. It is a real jewel in the community.”
1989-1990: Political officials, health care professionals and citizens commissioned a public opinion survey, drafted a certificate of need, and lobbied 38th District legislators and the governor in Annapolis until a bond bill was signed for a hospital in Worcester County. Fundraisers began to fund the project.
1991: Public officials, board members and other supporters gather for the groundbreaking ceremony
May 21, 1993: The hospital opens its doors to the community with 62-hospital beds, a small emergency department and a long-term care unit
2003-2004: The hospital expands with a larger emergency department including 19 beds, and a fast-track area for more minor injuries and illnesses as well as a second lobby, a sleep disorders diagnostic center and additional space for pulmonary medicine and the hospital’s administration, outpatient laboratory and imaging department.
2004-2005: Existing hospital space is used to create the Center for Joint Surgery and the Women’s Diagnostic Center for mammograms, bone density measurements, and minimally invasive breast biopsies
January 2006: A groundbreaking is held for the 42,000 square-foot, two-story, James G. Barrett Medical Office Building on the corner of Healthway Drive
April 2008: The James G. Barrett Medical Office Building opens and houses a Wound Care Center and offices for the diabetes outpatient education program and the Atlantic Endoscopy Center. The location also has Atlantic General Surgical Associates, a women’s health center, a Coffee Beanery, Chesapeake Eye Center and Neurological Associates
June 2017: A groundbreaking is held for the 18,000 square-foot John H. “Jack” Burbage Jr. Regional Cancer Care Center on the Atlantic General Hospital campus at the corner of Route 113 and Route 346
May 8, 2018: A 25th anniversary celebration for Atlantic General Hospital and a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Healthway Drive Community Garden takes place