- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
There is one doctor for every 713 people living in Maryland. But they are not distributed evenly throughout the state. In St. Mary’s County there is one doctor for every 1,723 residents.
Now comes a coordinated push, backed by a state grant, to improve those numbers here.
At least that’s the goal of the Greater Lexington Park Health Enterprise Zone, created to bolster health care in Lexington Park, Great Mills and Park Hall. It is one of five pilot projects by the state government, and the aim is to offer more medical care at a more reasonable cost to an underserved area of our community.
MedStar St. Mary’s Hospital helped organize a coalition of health care providers and other agencies in St. Mary’s to apply for the designation, which carries with it a four-year $3.4 million state grant. Much of that will be used to provide incentives for physicians to locate their practices in the Lexington Park area. There will also be state income tax breaks offered to doctors. All this is expected to appeal to young physicians facing a mountain of loans to pay for medical school.
Some of the grant funds will go to set up a transportation system to bring patients to a new 44,500-square-foot medical building that Cherry Cove Land Development plans to build across the street from Great Mills High School, which could serve as a central hub for the Health Enterprise Zone.
The timing of all this will coincide with the expansion of health insurance benefits under Obamacare. The president has embraced that name for what is actually called the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, but the only way the law will bring down health care costs not just for those who will be covered but for society as a whole is if preventive care reduces the extent and cost of emergency room visits and crisis care.
That’s among the goals of the Health Enterprise Zone. If residents of these areas can’t easily get to a nearby doctor, or can’t afford it, many don’t go regularly. Health problems are not spotted when they arise, and people who don’t have a regular physician seek treatment at the hospital emergency room when they are sick. That’s far more expensive than a visit to a doctor’s office, and the number of emergency room visits to MedStar St. Mary’s Hospital has climbed from 48,259 in 2009 to 57,028 last year.
There may be another benefit as well. The resources of St. Mary’s County’s rescue squads, staffed by volunteers, are being strecthed. That’s especially true of the Lexington Park Volunteer Rescue Squad, which runs more calls than any other squad. That is because it serves the county’s greatest population center, and also because it serves neighborhoods of people who don’t have transportation or do not seek medical care before the need becomes acute. The Health Enterprise Zone could ease the workload and preserve this system of volunteer emergency care.