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Dome - Johns Hopkins’ First Community Hospital Comes of Age

Dome June/July 2013
Issue No. 646

Johns Hopkins’ First Community Hospital Comes of Age

Date: July 5, 2013

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The original Howard County General Hospital, under construction in 1972, could accommodate only 59 beds, and after very brief stays, most patients required transfers to other hospitals.

Over the past 40 years, Howard County General Hospital (HCGH) has morphed from a small community hospital into one of the largest acute-care hospitals between Baltimore and Washington, D.C. It was also the first community-based hospital that Johns Hopkins Medicine brought into its system. But long before the first brick was laid at HCGH, the two institutions shared an integral relationship.

In 1969, James Rouse, the developer of Columbia, Md.—what would become the largest city in Howard County—realized that residents of that newly planned community needed convenient health care. He turned to The Johns Hopkins Hospital for support and forged a partnership with Johns Hopkins and the Connecticut General Life Insurance Company to form the Columbia Medical Plan, a prepaid health insurance plan. 

As the rapidly developing community of Columbia continued to grow, the need for a more comprehensive medical facility became more pressing. As a result, Howard County General Hospital was founded in 1973 as the Columbia Hospital and Clinics Foundation. With just 59 beds, the hospital was originally designed to provide inpatient support for Columbia Medical Plan members, including short-term care, mainly for infant deliveries and simple surgery. Patients with serious illnesses were transferred to the specialty hospitals in Baltimore. 

Even before the ribbon-cutting, however, the local medical community realized that the growing population needed a full-service hospital. Within its opening year, the facility was turned over to a community-based board of trustees and became the private, not-for-profit hospital we know today. 

Though the hospital expanded over the years, by 1995, Vic Broccolino, HCGH president and CEO, knew he needed a partner if the hospital was to grow and remain competitive. And so he began a three-year process to identify options and ultimately select that strategic partner. With enthusiastic input from his professional staff and the community, Johns Hopkins became the clear choice, resulting in the hospital’s 1998 JHM membership. “I knew then, and I’m even more certain today, that we made the right choice,” says Broccolino. “Hopkins’ resources—medical, human and financial—have driven a remarkable expansion of our facilities and services.” 

The hospital’s physical plant took a quantum leap forward in 2009, when it opened the 110,686-square-foot Patient Pavilion—a four-story, five-level structure housing three inpatient units, the Bolduc Family Outpatient Center and numerous support departments. Patient safety, comfort and improved quality of care were the driving forces behind the new facilities’ design. 

Since then, the hospital has continued to develop new and improved services, such as the sophisticated Level IIIb neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) that opened in 2006. Although many of the babies born at the hospital require short-term monitoring, the NICU cares for many sick babies and transfers those requiring certain specialty surgery to Johns Hopkins. The hospital is also widely acclaimed for its obstetric care and is the fifth-largest obstetrics service in Maryland—delivering 3,333 babies in fiscal year 2012. 

Another standout service is the hospital’s Emergency Department. It has the only certified cardiac intervention center in Howard County, which means that patients in need of an emergency angioplasty can have the procedure performed there. (Patients in need of more advanced cardiac surgery are transported to The Johns Hopkins Hospital.) HCGH also boasts a designated primary stroke center, which saw more than 400 patients last year. 

The thriving affiliation with Johns Hopkins physicians also continues to enhance the hospital’s ability to provide excellent health care. More than 30 percent of HCGH’s professional staff members are employed by Johns Hopkins. They hold key positions at HCGH’s Breast Center and the Maternal Fetal Medicine Center. 

In addition to offering these targeted services, many Johns Hopkins physicians provide specialty and subspecialty care for the Howard County community, including emergency care, inpatient pediatrics, neuropathology, radiation oncology, cardiology and vascular, breast and general surgery.  

Howard County General Hospital also furthers Johns Hopkins’ mission to educate future physicians. Johns Hopkins medical residents do rotations on several HCGH units, and the newly established Johns Hopkins Medicine Research Institute at the hospital supports the research component. 

Despite severe economic constraints for hospitals at the state and federal level, Ronald R. Peterson, president of The Johns Hopkins Hospital and Health System and EVP of Johns Hopkins Medicine, says he’s optimistic about Howard County General Hospital’s future. “It has a very enlightened board of trustees and management team,” Peterson says. “As the only acute hospital provider in Howard County, it’s showing an increase in admissions while other hospitals are experiencing a decrease, and it had the foresight to go forward with an ambitious campus redevelopment plan before the recession kicked in. It may not be off the hook, but it is well-positioned for the future.”

—Susan Case, Mary Catherine Cochran and Diane Dunn