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April 21, 2022

Trone hears of challenges faced by rural health care

Credit: Garrett County Republican, Joseph Hauger

OAKLAND — The state of rural health care was first and foremost on the agenda as U.S. Rep. David Trone conducted a two-day trip through Garrett, Allegany and Washington counties last week.

On Thursday, Trone, D-Md., met with the leadership of Garrett Regional Medical Center to discuss the challenges rural health facilities are facing, ranging from the impact of COVID-19 and staffing levels to mental health care and confronting the opioid epidemic.

Through the pandemic of the past two years, GRMC has been able to retain its Top 20 Rural and Community Hospital designation from the National Rural Health Association for the second year in a row, CEO Mark Boucot said.

“We have an unbelievable track record because of the employees of this hospital being engaged with our mission and the work that they do,” Boucot said, citing the hospital holding the lowest patient readmission rate in the state, as well as the absence of surgical infections in the hospital for the past two years.

“It’s all about leadership,” Trone said in congratulating Boucot on GRMC’s successes.

The numbers are “pretty unbelievably amazing,” Trone said. “It’s a pretty important Garrett County success story.”

Continued success through the pandemic has come at a cost, though.

While staffing shortages have been mostly addressed, Boucot said the hospital has experienced significant financial losses during the pandemic and has had to spend much of its reserve funds.

“Through the pandemic, with the volumes growing and the global budgets in the state of Maryland, we are completely upside-down financially at this point and depending on the state to provide us with a rate adjustment to correct that here,” Boucot said.

Even in the face of significant financial losses, Boucot said he would make the same decisions through the pandemic.

“We never shut our doors; we never went on divert,” said Boucot, who also leads Potomac Valley Hospital in Keyser, W.Va. “So when the ambulances were piling into both of these hospitals … no one was turned away for care. We made some decisions that were hard to make, but you can’t put a price on someone’s life.”

Trone spoke of the nationwide shortage of mental health professionals and behavioral specialists, which hits particularly hard in rural areas. He also addressed the continued need to address addiction issues in those same regions — many of which see higher opioid use rates than larger areas.

“President Biden has realized there’s a mental health crisis and there’s an addiction crisis,” Trone said. “Those were the first two things out of his mouth on the ‘Unity Agenda.’ … I’ve talked about those same things for the last three years non-stop.”

Garrett County Health Department

Trone visited Mountain Laurel Medical Center on Thursday afternoon. He also met with members of the Garrett County Drug-Free Communities Coalition and the Garrett County Health Department to hear about progress the coalition has made with funds from the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act 3.0, legislation introduced and co-chaired by Trone.

Garrett County will receive $50,000 per year for five years to reduce opioid, methamphetamine and prescription drug use/misuse among youth.

With these and other federal dollars (including Rural Communities Opioid Response, Stop Underage Drinking and formerly Drug-Free Communities Support funds), staff and members of the coalition have achieved many successes: peer education groups at each secondary school, prescription drug disposal policy changes with several local organizations, three permanent medication disposal boxes in the county, community Narcan saturation, increased participation in the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program, assistance to 27 organizations with policy change to restrict electronic smoking devices, and annual alcohol and tobacco vendor compliance of at least 90 percent.