Howard County General Hospital (HCGH) is planning a $40 million expansion that would add a two-story addition to the hospital and include the renovation of existing space in an effort to meet community needs for emergency care, general medical and surgical care, and behavioral health services.

A proposed 36,000-square-foot addition would be located adjacent to the existing emergency room (ER). After the addition is complete, approximately 18,000 square feet of internal renovations would take place in existing space. HCGH is in the process of seeking Howard County Planning Board approval for the project.

The two-story addition would be completed in late 2018. The hospital has begun short-term renovations to existing space, resulting in a modest increase in emergency room capacity, said Ryan Brown, HCGH vice president of operations. The increase will include a four-bed, “fast track” unit for patients who are not likely to stay overnight, as well as a five-bed pediatric behavioral health unit.

“We believe this will have a very positive impact for all of our patients,” said Brown. “This will give us a dedicated unit for those coming into the ER in need of behavioral health services. Those patients, right now, are put into the general unit, so it’s also helping the other pediatric unit.”

Aging Population

HCGH has done a comprehensive market assessment analyzing needs, said Brown. “The expansion we are proposing will really help us meet the capacity of needs today in the community. Our community is aging at a pretty amazing rate.”

The number of adults aged 50 and older living in Howard County is projected to increase by 61% between now and 2035, more than double the growth rate of the total population.

From 2000 to 2010, the 65-and-older population in Howard County increased by 57% — more than three times the overall population increase of 16% — according to U.S. census data.

There was a 92% increase in the 60-to-64-year-old segment of the population, the largest of any segment.

Funding Grows

Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman expressed the county’s support for the expansion of the hospital. “Howard County General Hospital has been a strong partner for us, particularly supporting our mental health, substance abuse and wellness initiatives,” Kittleman said. “As Howard County continues to grow, improving emergency medical services is essential. The county’s four-year commitment of $1.25 million to support the renovation of the emergency department will help increase capacity and reduce wait times at the hospital, and is a direct benefit to our residents.”

HCGH had the highest year-over-year increase in inpatient admissions of all hospitals in the Baltimore region in 2015. The hospital’s general inpatient units operate close to capacity most days, with 19% growth projected by 2024.

In addition, the hospital’s adult emergency room treated a record 60,310 patients last year, a nearly 5% increase from the previous year. The pediatric emergency room treats 18,000 patients annually, including adolescent patients with behavioral health issues. The number of adolescents with behavioral health needs increased 46% at the hospital in the last two years.

Contributions Key

The Howard Hospital Foundation, the organization that raises funds for HCGH, is leading a capital campaign with the theme “Building Today for a Healthier Tomorrow” to raise funds to support the construction.

Philanthropy is an important part of making this vitally needed construction and renovation initiative a reality, said Sandra Harriman, vice president of development for the foundation. “Gifts for this campaign are an investment in Howard County General Hospital and will be crucial to enable us to provide the level of excellence that brings healing, care, hope and wellness to the entire community.”

Brown agreed with Harriman that charitable contributions to the hospital are important for the expansion to become a reality. “We are founded to treat this community,” he said. “We take that responsibility very, very seriously.”

Hospital officials continue to work with county planning and zoning officials to determine the appropriate zoning process and approvals. As construction gets rolling, people can visit the HCGH website page and subscribe to news updates, said Susan Case, HCGH marketing director. “There is both a donate button and information about the campaign,” she said. “People can also sign up for updates.”

With the projects foundations being set up, it’s time to move forward, as contractors are already preparing to get the bidding process going, Case said, while noting what residents of the community want and need to know: that all hospital services will remain open throughout the project.