“You may be asking yourself, ‘I said, University of Maryland, Baltimore?’ And yep, you’re right. Baltimore’s in the name. But Maryland’s in the name, too,” University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB) President Bruce E. Jarrell, MD, FACS, told a group gathered in Cambridge on April 21. “I just want to let you all know that while I’m sitting in that chair, at least, that this side of the [Chesapeake] Bay is really important to me, and I want to see things happen over here.”
In the hour that followed, Jarrell and leaders from the University of Maryland Medical System (UMMS) shared the things they want to see happen — ambitious plans to improve the quality of health care in five counties on Maryland's Eastern Shore known collectively as the mid-Shore.
Standing close by Jarrell that evening was a childhood friend, Lawrence Hayman, with whom Jarrell attended school. The two grew up in neighboring towns in Caroline County, Goldsboro and Greensboro, in the 1950s and 1960s. In high school, they ran cross country together and were teammates on the North Caroline County High School basketball team. But after graduation, the two took different paths. Jarrell went off to college and became a physician, surgeon, and educator. Hayman started his own trucking company, now a national leader in frozen and refrigerated transport. In later years, the two reconnected, both still committed to the Eastern Shore.
“We got to talking, and Lawrence wanted to do something,” Jarrell remembered. Hayman was determined to make a bequest of $18 million to UMB to improve the health of Shore residents, and Jarrell, who had just become president of Maryland’s public health, law, and human services university, was in a position to make Hayman’s dream a reality.
“He didn't want to do it for me or for UMB. He wanted to do it for the Shore,” Jarrell explained. “And in fact, I can't tell you how many times when he and I talked about what he wanted to do, he kept saying, ‘Bruce, I want the money to stay on the Shore. Bruce, I want the money to help students and to help health care on this mid-Shore area to get the highest quality you could get.’ He had a clear vision in mind.”
The site chosen to lay out the plans for the Eastern Shore initiative — the historic Phillips Packing House — also held special meaning to Jarrell.
“I worked in a plant, my brothers and I, a plant just like this, just up the road a ways, canning tomatoes. And some of you may know that there were canning factories on every small town on the Shore, up until about 1968. And then they sort of disappeared,“ he explained. “But there was something else in every little town that I remember. In my town, Goldsboro, Dr. [George] Silver was there. In Greensboro, some of you will remember Dr. [Charles] Stonesifer, who was the GP there. If you went into his office at 1 a.m., the waiting room was full and he really worked unbelievable hours.”
Although the presence of so many community health providers on the Shore has diminished, the health challenges have not, he went on. “I came back to visit the Caroline County Health Department, pre-COVID. And I was astounded to see the health statistics for the state. They had every county listed. There was Baltimore City down at the bottom. And at the time, right next to that was Caroline County. That was my county. How could that be down there? But of course, if you continue to look, you see a lot of Shore counties on that list.”
Those statistics represent something very important that’s missing from many Shore communities, said UMMS President and CEO Mohan Suntha, MD, MBA.
“When you think about life in the mid-Shore, I always say we start with a lesson my father taught me a long time ago, and that is through the lens of health care that a healthy person has many wishes in life, a sick person has but one,” he said. “And if you believe that, you understand that being able to access high-quality health care in your community is fundamental to how people think about health and happiness and resources that exist within communities.”
UMMS is already one of Maryland’s largest private employers, delivering more than a quarter of all hospital-based health care in the state, including at two hospitals, two freestanding emergency departments, and numerous care locations operating under the banner of UM Shore Regional Health. The system is committed, Suntha said, to “reimagining health care delivery” in this rural area and is preparing to invest even more to improve health outcomes. Suntha pointed to an artist’s rendering of a new $550 million state-of-the-art regional medical center to be built just outside of Easton, in Talbot County. The impact, he explained, will go beyond health care, bolstering the community’s overall sense of well-being, while creating economic and educational opportunities as well.
“The very good news is, we are at the University of Maryland. And we think about innovation and discovery. As we like to say, we have the responsibility of thinking about the cures of tomorrow while we deliver care today,” he added.
Suntha and Jarrell also emphasized the need for talented and committed health care workers and outlined several strategies to address the situation. The University is already engaging with state legislators, such as Sen. Johnny Mautz and Del. Jay Jacobs — both of whom were present — to work with local school districts to encourage and guide students into higher education and careers in health care.
“In Baltimore City, we've seen this time and again. The kids actually don't know what they can become. Nobody's bothered to tell them. They don't have role models. They don't have people like Dr. Silver or Dr. Stonesifer or people like that to say, 'I could do that,' ” Jarrell said. “The theory is, if I know I can go into a career, maybe I will. And of course, the next part of that theory is, and if I do, maybe I'll come back, come back here to the Shore.”
Jarrell also outlined plans to have medical students and students from other health and human services tracks spend time on the Shore, in clinical rotations and residencies. The effectiveness of that approach was made clear in one study that showed 60 percent of physician assistants who performed clinical rotations in Easton stayed to work in the area after graduation.
“And I have no doubt that that would apply to nursing, to pharmacy. And can you imagine a law student clerking with a judge over here on the Eastern Shore?” he asked, adding jokingly, “They have judges over here, OK. And don't you think that would be a phenomenal opportunity? And don't you think that would attract people to come back?”
Among the audience, the deans of four of UMB’s professional schools — dentistry, law, nursing, and social work — nodded in agreement. The four, along with representatives from the schools of medicine and pharmacy, were quick to express their enthusiasm for the University’s Eastern Shore Initiative.
“We're always looking for ways to expand the reach of the work that the law school does, including onto the Eastern Shore,” said University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law Dean Renée McDonald Hutchins, JD. “We're already doing some work out here with ALEI [Agriculture Law Education Initiative]. And I think Bruce's point is exactly right. If we get students out here in clerkships, that is an ideal way for them to launch their careers.”
For many health care providers, clinical experience with actual patients is a requirement, added Jane M. Kirschling, PhD, RN, FAAN, the Bill and Joanne Conway Dean of the University of Maryland School of Nursing. “We have certified nurse anesthetists, we have primary care providers, both pediatric and adult, we have acute care providers, both pediatric and adult. We need clinical experiences, not only for those providers, but also for our physician assistants who are in the Graduate School. If they get to get a taste here, and if they're from here, there's a good chance they'll be glad not to have to go over that bridge again to go to work, but stay on this side."
“No one wants to change the Shore,” Hayman concluded. “We just want to improve the Shore. And when you have a good health care system, I think you're on the way to achieving that.”