Caroline County is known throughout the state of Maryland for a number of attributes, including its proximity to the Mason-Dixon line, its national parks and its abundant strawberry harvest. However, this region is also noteworthy for a darker reason: Caroline County is the only county in the state without an emergency room facility. As a result, its ambulances are forced to transport residents to health centers in neighboring areas, placing additional strain on the vehicles and putting residents at risk. Fortunately, the county commissioners are working to improve the region’s access to health care by focusing on a new urgent care center and making changes to the ambulance fleet.
In March 2013, the Caroline County commissioners signed a memorandum of understanding with Shore Regional Health system, drawing out a five-year plan to improve health care in the area. The first step of this initiative was to establish an urgent care clinic, which opened in Denton in September of that year.
However, the plan also outlined several transportation grants to improve the county‘s ambulances. On Tuesday, April 14, the commissioners accepted the third of these five annual installments from Shore Regional Health, giving the board access to $120,000 to make needed changes.
According to the Department of Emergency Services, the first two grants, also for $120,000, paid for a new ambulance that went into service last year. This latest grant will now be used to help cover another new ambulance, which is planned to go into service by next January. In spite of the wait, the department says that its ambulance fleet is in much better shape than it was before the agreement: several times, the county‘s ambulances reportedly broke down while en route to area hospitals.
Additionally, county officials say that the Denton urgent care center is also improving matters. According to data collected by the commissioners, the number of emergency room visits from Caroline County between July 2014 and February 2015 stayed consistent, even as emergency department visits in other counties increased. Caroline County officials attribute this to high urgent care usage, and for good reason. Urgent care clinics are becoming a popular choice across the United States for a variety of conditions, with an estimated 80.7% of urgent care centers even providing care for bone fractures and splinting procedures. The authorities say that the Denton urgent care clinic was especially helpful during this year’s harsh flu season.
Unfortunately, this high rate of usage has often led to long waits and and overwhelming volume of patients. As a result, Shore Regional Health is considering expanding the clinic’s hours. The urgent care center currently operates from noon to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday, and the health system is looking into adding morning or weekend hours, or even adding more space. Both considerations would require more staff, but might significantly improve health care in the area. While the Caroline County commissioners have not confirmed that the clinic will be making any changes, they have said that nothing is off the table at this point in their plan.