Members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 3 gathered at Western Hospital Center in Hagerstown on Friday in opposition to Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr.’s plan to shutter the facility.
“Closing these facilities would impact patients and staff and the entire community they serve, who would lose these good-paying, middle-class jobs here in Washington County,” Patrick Moran, the president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 3, said outside of the hospital.
Released last September, the Maryland Department of Health’s 2041 Facilities Master Plan detailed intentions to close down Western Hospital Center and the Deer’s Head Hospital Center in Salisbury, both of which provide low-cost, long-term medical care.
According to the Health Department’s website, services offered at these facilities will be transferred to community providers.
Moran said that the plan doesn’t detail where the patients receiving care at the closing facilities will go “beyond the community.”
Both hospitals were poised to close this year but were saved from closure through budget negotiations during the 2022 legislative session.
Union members say that privatizing Western and Deer’s Head would cause the state to lose hundreds of state-run, licensed hospital beds.
According to Melissa Gettel, a union member and employee at the Potomac Center, the inability of low-income patients to receive necessary care would be more devastating than losing her job.
“If it’s not the government and the tax dollars’ responsibility to provide for people that can’t provide for themselves, then who does it fall on?” she asked.
Former U.S. Labor Secretary Tom Perez (D) and his running mate in the 2022 gubernatorial election, Shannon Sneed (D), joined union members in their call to keep the facility open Friday.
Perez, who has been endorsed by the union, said that he has seen the harm that privatization can inflict upon communities. He called the closure plan a “master mistake” with no backup plan.
“This plan makes no sense — whether it’s here in Hagerstown, or whether it’s in Salisbury,” Perez continued. “And I will fight here, I will fight to Salisbury, I will fight to holy hell to make sure that this never happens,” Perez continued.
In an email exchange Friday afternoon, Chase Cook, a spokesperson for the Maryland Department of Health, said the agency is looking to identify strategic partners to take over services. According to Cook, no partners have been chosen at this time.
“We are in the early planning process of phase 1, and welcome input from stakeholders,” he wrote.
Earlier this week, in spite of pushback from community members and advocates, the Board of Public Works voted 2-1 to lease Spring Grove Hospital Center in Catonsville to the University of Maryland Baltimore County for $1.
Spring Grove is one of three state-run hospitals that serve forensic psychiatric patients, or mentally ill people who have been charged with or sentenced for violent crimes
Nelson E. Reichart, principal deputy secretary for the Maryland Department of General Services, told the board on Wednesday that the 175-acre property is worth $20 million. Because the facilities are damaged, he said appraisers estimated it would cost $135 million to make the property suitable for development.
“We can’t afford to lose any beds, yet Governor Hogan continues to push for more facilities to be closed and moved to the private sector,” Moran said Friday afternoon.
During Wednesday’s hearing, Department of Health Secretary Dennis R. Schrader said that Spring Grove Hospital Center will stay open until other clinical programs are in place.