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Everything from area shortfalls to managing chronic conditions, to when to give up treatment, was discussed at a forum on health care Sunday at Middleham and St. Peter’s Episcopal Parish in Lusby.

The forum — titled “Health Care in Southern Maryland: A Right, Responsibility or a Privilege?” — featured a panel of speakers, including Calvert County Health Officer Dr. Laurence Polsky; MedStar St. Mary’s Hospital Director of Health Communications Lori Werrell; Calvert Healthcare Solutions Inc. Executive Director Michael Shaw; and Calvert Hospice Executive Director Brenda Laughhunn.

If you go

The next discussion Middleham and St. Peter’s Episcopal Parish will host in “The Big Conversation” series will be “Issues of Health Care Specific to Our More Rural Environment” from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 16, at 10210 H.G. Trueman Road, Lusby. This is an opportunity for the community to examine the deeper issues of health care in the context of their faith, scripture and views of others. An optional potluck will begin at 6:15 p.m. For more information, call 410-326-0370, or go to www.middlehamandstpeters.org.

The speakers started the forum giving introductions of themselves and their professions. After that, audience members were asked to write down questions that were then presented to the panelists by moderator Julia Bates.

Polsky said that while some people say there is no such thing as a “right” to health care, without sanitation and vaccinations for all economic classes “everyone is at a greater risk for illness and suffering.”

Polsky said as it stands now, anyone has the right to walk into a hospital and receive treatment for a heart attack. Whether that individual can receive outpatient treatment to prevent another heart attack is a different story, Polsky explained.

Polsky also noted that with many races and cultures in the U.S., different groups have different reactions to the same disease, like diabetes.

“You can’t have a one-size-fits-all health care solution in the U.S. like you can in other parts of the world,” he said.

Both Polsky and Werrell pointed out that unlike urban areas like Baltimore, Southern Maryland is stretched thin when it comes to health care resources, as each county contains only one hospital.

“We feel that responsibility deeply — that we are it,” Werrell said, continuing that with only one hospital per county it’s tough for the hospitals to really have one speciality area “because there’s no one else to do the rest.”

For this reason, Werrell said her hospital makes it a priority for its patients to be able to manage their own chronic conditions and stay well enough to avoid hospital visits unless they’re very ill.

“We want to build a program that will keep you healthy at home,” Werrell said.

Based on community health needs assessments, Werrell said the biggest health concerns in the area seemed to be obesity, tobacco and alcohol abuse and access to care. She said a greater issue in Maryland as a whole is a disproportionate number of black residents going to emergency rooms.

Werrell said St. Mary’s Hospital recently added a new facility primarily for outpatient and speciality programs.

“To have to drive two hours to [Washington] D.C. for a 20-minute follow-up is really a problem,” she said, continuing that she also hoped to see the area of mental health treatment grow and become less of a “stigma.”

Shaw said while Calvert County was considered affluent, “some areas are very densely populated by people with great need.”

He added that with scarce public transportation in the county, economically disadvantaged individuals, particularly senior citizens, often miss out on receiving health services entirely.

Shaw said Calvert Healthcare Solutions was founded with the basis of uninsured people being able to utilize a network of providers at a heavily discounted rate.

Werrell determined that 12 percent of St. Mary’s County is uninsured and Polsky said 10 percent of Calvert County is uninsured, though he said that number could be more like 15 to 20 percent at different times, depending on job loss.

Like Calvert Healthcare Solutions, Laughhunn explained that Calvert Hospice is more of a service than a place to go — though it does contain the Burnett-Calvert Hospice House in Prince Frederick.

Laughhunn said all patients have a right to determine their own course of action “if curative treatment is not your wish.”

She said everyone needed to ask themselves and their loved ones “when is enough enough?

“You have the right to ask your physician, ‘If I don’t get better…?’” Laughhunn said. “Modern medicine often puts off feeling good today to have a longer life.”



ldukes@somdnews.com