Born from need by a determined community, Atlantic General Hospital proudly marks its 25th anniversary, while continuing to evolve
More than 25 years ago, a determined group of local physicians and concerned citizens saw the need for a community hospital in Worcester County — one that also could support the growing demand for medical services during Ocean City’s busy summer-vacation season. With the closest hospital at least a 30-minute drive away, the overwhelming sentiment was that building a hospital in Berlin was imperative to the health and wellbeing of the area.
“Atlantic General Hospital came to be because people of the community came forth and wanted to help. They wanted to make a difference,” said James Almand, attorney/partner of Ayres, Jenkins, Gordy & Almand, P.A., who served as the hospital’s first board chairman from 1991 to 1995. “Folks weren’t on the board but gave their time on committees. You had folks who didn’t want a formal position but were willing to make the calls that turned out to be pivotal to the success of the hospital. Shirley Phillips immediately comes to mind, along with Jim Barrett and there’s a host of others.”
As the facility commemorates its 25th anniversary, those individuals, some of whom still contribute to its successes today, are fondly remembered for their vision and perseverance as the healthcare provider proudly and systematically continues to enhance the landscape of medical services and treatments available locally. Innovations and medical research conducted over the last quarter-century have dramatically changed the way Atlantic General Hospital delivers healthcare, but its mission has remained the same — to improve individual and community health.
“Prior to this hospital, you had a couple of family doctors who did what they could in the office. Patients were sent to Salisbury or other hospitals for more intensive care,” said Stephen Waters, MD, who’s been practicing family medicine in Worcester County for more than 30 years and was one of the first cornerstone physicians to join AGH’s network of caregivers. “Now, over the years, we’ve built up our own medical staff and services, so we can handle a great deal of maintenance medicine and surgery right here in our community hospital. It’s been an explosion in services that are now provided locally. From my perspective as a physician, it’s been extraordinary.”
Atlantic General Hospital opened its doors to the Worcester County community on May 21, 1993 as a 62-bed facility with a small emergency department and a long-term care unit that occupied an entire wing of the second floor. During its first year, there were more than 13,300 emergency-room visits, which exceeded initial projections by 10 percent. The facility’s revenue also surpassed expectations in year one.
Atlantic General eventually moved from long-term care toward more acute care and specialized outpatient services, which expanded its network into more communities and contributed to attracting highly trained and talented medical professionals to the region.
“We’re proud of our wide breadth of specialists who have trained in major research facilities around the country. They have chosen to make this their community,” said Michael Franklin, FACHE, Atlantic General Hospital’s president and CEO. “We now have a medical staff of over 200 physicians, whereas we began with a medical staff of around 30. The draw that this organization has to bring these types of professionals to Atlantic General has helped make a well-integrated, richer community that enhances the quality of life for all people who live here. Our most important distinction is our caring team of professionals who have devoted their careers to caring for patients on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, Virginia and Delaware.”
“I think it’s important to note that we have a young medical staff. I’m the old guy here,” Dr. Waters said. “This staff is talented. They could live and work anywhere and probably make more money elsewhere, but they’ve chosen to come here to work at a small, community hospital and live in this area for its many attractions.”
Atlantic General Hospital’s growth has also earned it the distinction of being the largest non-governmental employer in Worcester County.
“When the founding members started this undertaking, they didn’t just build a hospital — they created a new industry for the community,” said Toni Keiser, Atlantic General Hospital’s vice president of public relations. “When you consider the hospital’s total employment and factor in the various expansion projects and services over the years, AGH has been an economic engine for the community.”
Over the past five years, the hospital has continued to expand its impressive list of services, achieving many notable accomplishments in the process: The implementation of an integrated electronic-health-record system across its entire network, expanding the pool of primary-care physicians and specialists in the region and launching the Integrated Health Literacy project in Worcester County Public Schools and through faith-based initiatives with local spiritual leaders. Achievements for better service and convenience for patients include its 30-minute ER Promise and the openings of its Atlantic ImmediCare clinics and AGHRx RediScripts pharmacy. Later this summer, AGH will unveil its state-of-the-art John H. “Jack” Burbage, Jr. Regional Cancer Care Center.
Atlantic General’s 2020 Vision will integrate healthcare beyond the acute-care facility. Investment in technology-based solutions, such as telemedicine, will result in care being distributed more evenly throughout the region. This speaks directly to the AGH’s mission to create a coordinated system that provides access to quality care, personalized service and education to improve individual and community health. These initiatives are accomplished through a set of values that are honored for its patients, visitors, medical staff, associates, partners and volunteers.
“When I go to the hospital, I’m always impressed with how friendly the staff is, how clean the facility is and the level of care that’s given,” Almand said. “I’m impressed by how it’s continued to grow, not only in terms of its size but in its services, new doctors and programs offered. I don’t think any of us who were involved in the early stages of Atlantic General Hospital truly appreciated what it would become, not only as a facility but to the community that it serves.”
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