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Stories

Stories

A Rich Heritage of Dedication
In the beginning, Calvert Hospital was a vision in the minds of some determined men who had moustaches and wore hats. Three brothers, Drs. Elliott, Amos and Clarence Hutchins and their brother-in-law, Dr. Issac N. King, would leave a legacy of leadership that would shape the future of health care for generations to come.

According to historical accounts, they secured pledges and a loan for the tiny, two-story frame hospital, which cost $18,000 to build and equip. The land was donated by John B. Gray. Supplies were scarce but their passion for caring was plentiful. Rooms were $2 a day and patients who could not afford to pay were treated for free. The only registered nurse was on 24-hour duty. The cook took charge if she left the building. Elliott and Clarence, both over 230 pounds apiece and six feet four inches, used to carry the patients up the back stairs.

The need for the hospital was clear when the local newspapers reported two operations were performed in the wake of the dedication on May 26, 1919, with six more the next day. The unity and grit of those early founders and the men and women who came after would be tested by the lean years of the Great Depression and the war times that followed, when 20,000 were stationed on the naval base in Solomons in 1944. Dr. Page Jett told an interviewer in 1987, “We never took our clothes off. We would just undo them and go to bed.”

Two nurses, fresh out of training, who emerged as pivotal figures in health care during this time, were the county’s first public health nurse, Myrtle Patten, and Helen Marsellas, who served as the hospital’s chief nurse for 11 years before being named administrator in 1956. Testimonials reveal their tireless dedication and unwavering service were unmatched.

Patten, who arrived in Calvert in 1927, could be described as nurse, midwife, dental assistant, emergency medical technician and counselor. She visited the homes of African American families, did well-baby checks, vaccinated preschoolers and inoculated farmers and laborers for small pox and tuberculosis. When she retired, her position ended. No one ever took her place, according to “Inspiring African American Women of Calvert County,” by the Calvert County Public Library.

With so few doctors, Marsellas, who started in 1942, did everything from dressings to delivering babies to pulling the rope for the dumbwaiter to bring meals up from the basement. “I loved nursing,” she said. “I loved every bit of it. We worked until things were finished. It might be midnight.” She played a key role because of her versatility, according to former state Senator Bernie Fowler, Sr., who worked with her from 1956-1967. “She was very capable and concerned about her patients. I don’t think anyone could exceed the attention she gave. She did it because it was her life and she loved doing it.”

Fowler said the nurses were often called on to handle emergencies until the doctor oncall could arrive. “I remember one time there was a boat explosion in Solomons and we got 11 patients and the ER had three beds,” said Sally Showalter, who was a nurse at the hospital from 1974-1984. “You managed and everybody worked together as a team and stayed until the job was done.”

Showalter said it wasn’t unusual for her to be the only nurse on duty on some evening shifts. “The nursing assistants were our eyes and ears,” she said. “They bathed and fed the patients, answered their call lights, and kept us up to date when we could not be in their room. When they expressed a concern, I listened. I knew they had the experience and knowledge to know when something wasn’t right and I trusted their judgment.”

County’s Growth Spurs Expansion
From those humble beginnings, Calvert Health Medical Center has transformed into Southern Maryland’s premier healthcare provider. Today, the health system includes the medical center, an employed physician network, imaging, home health services and urgent care facilities throughout the county; and is the county’s largest private employer with more than 1,200 employees.

In the 1920s, Calvert was unusually rural and poor. Transportation was a problem with most dirt roads impassable. There was one bus that traveled from Solomons to Baltimore and mail was delivered on horseback. In 1926, wings were added to each side of the original hospital structure. A new chapter began in 1948, when the board began planning for a new building. The following year, 65 acres were purchased and a new, “modern” 29-bed facility opened in 1953. Eleven years later, it was at 97 percent capacity and the board was looking for ways to finance the three-story, 111-bed hospital that would break ground in 1976.

A turning point came in 1975, with the opening of the Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant, replacing tobacco as the economic engine of the county and ushering in a population boom that continued for several decades. “BG&E changed a lot down here,” said former county commissioner Mary Krug, who served on the hospital’s board of directors for 22 years. “All of a sudden, the county could pave its rural roads, improve the schools and widen Route 4.”

Former Calvert Memorial Hospital President and CEO Jim Xinis said, “The county’s rapid population growth had a dramatic impact on the hospital. For a number of years, Calvert was the fastest growing jurisdiction in the state by percentage and we were very aggressive in meeting that demand. It seemed like we were breaking ground on something every six months.”

The wave of construction included additional locations in Dunkirk, Solomons and Twin Beaches; three on-campus medical office buildings and new surgery, family birth and wellness centers that were followed by a muchexpanded emergency department, a critical care unit and a concourse devoted to outpatient services.
Board’s Strength Lies in Diversity
“The volunteers on the hospital board represent the community’s health interests to CalvertHealth’s leadership,” said longtime board member Cliff Stewart. “They serve as a direct connection between the hospital and the community.”

“When people know you’re on the board,” said Stewart, “they tell you what they like and don’t like about what’s going on at the hospital. We bring the voice and perspective of the people.” He said feedback from the community was a significant factor in the decision to convert to private patient rooms.

For this reason, diversity is essential – to speak for the entire community. “It comes down to having diversity of board members that have different relationships within the community,” said Showalter, who is a third-generation board member. Her father, Arthur Dowell, Jr., and her grandfather, Arthur Dowell, Sr., also served.

Despite diverging viewpoints and experiences there was always a common purpose. “Even though board members came from varied backgrounds they had an open mind and respected all the different facets of where the people were coming from,” said former board chair Vic Cornellier, who owns a building design company. Former educator Rev. Robert Conway concurred. “What impressed me most was how they made a conscientious effort to respect the opinions of everybody,” he said.

And there were certainly challenges and changes from grappling with desegregation in the 60s and physician shortages in the 70s to dealing with the advent of managed care and its impact on the delivery of care and coping with the uncertainty of Maryland’s rate-setting system. They were steady stewards that navigated the hospital with a strong hand steering an independent course for the hospital amidst a landscape of more and more mergers.

They served because they cared. They served because they were grateful. But mostly, they served because they wanted to give back and make a difference. “I was very interested in health care for the under-served portion of our population. I always have been,” said banker and former board chair Don Parsons, who grew up in inner-city Boston in the projects.

Often it meant long hours but they persevered. “Many times, when I got home it was nearly midnight and my wife had already gone to bed,” said Conway. “We just stayed until we finished what we had to do.” Krug underscored the group’s diligence to duty. “The board took professionalism and their role very seriously,” she said. “It’s not a position you take lightly. It meant a lot of long hours but it was worth it.”
Physicians Advance Hospital's Progress
“Collectively, our current medical staff has 3,125 years of combined service to CalvertHealth – that’s a lot to be proud of,” said Teague. “I believe this longevity of service is one of the things that make our medical community so strong.”

This tradition of dedicated service dates back to the early 1900s in Calvert when four physicians covered the entire county for decades. Dr. Roberto De Villarreal practiced for 30 years in St. Leonard, accepting whatever payment his patients could give before his career was tragically cut short in a fatal car accident. Dr. Hugh Ward of Dunkirk helped deliver some 5,000 babies and was instrumental in developing the medical center in Owings.

Dr. George Weems, who served in the Army Medical Unit during WWII, started his practice in Huntingtown in 1938 and continued to make house calls until he retired in the early 1990s. Dr. Page Jett of Prince Frederick had a deep concern for indigent patients and worked hard for state legislation that would later be a model for the national Medicaid program.

“It was a lot different when I came in 1961,” said Dr. Issam (Sam) Damalouji. “I trained as a surgeon but started a family practice to support myself. Back then it was 24/7 for us. I took care of headaches, heart attacks and hemorrhoids and at the end of the night delivered babies.” “I was busy from the get-go,” said Dr. Damalouji, who very quickly became chief of staff, a position he held for 36 years, and helped write the first set of medical bylaws. “I charged $5 for an office visit but that included medicine because we didn’t have a pharmacy.”

Dr. Damalouji said it was his policy to welcome qualified physicians. This approach saw the introduction of the county’s first specialists in the 1970s in cardiology, internal medicine, obstetrics, pediatrics and radiology – many of them foreign-born. “I worked very hard with the other physicians to get the first accreditation of the hospital.”

One of these early physicians was general surgeon Dr. Emad Al-Banna, who joined CMH in 1971 and served as chief of staff from 2006-2010. “The county was very small. You called everyone by their first name,” he said. “The highway stopped at the bowling alley and there was no bridge in Solomons. Everyone did his or her share to bring the hospital to where it is now.” This was followed by a large influx of university-trained physicians who came in the 1980s. “We had a new level of expertise and a new level of care,”said cardiologist Dr. Mark Kushner, who was actively involved in the hospital’s intensive care unit, serving as medical director for years. Marked improvements in patient care and safety were seen throughout the hospital.

Xinis largely credits the medical staff with driving change and advancing patient care at the hospital – from more sophisticated technology to the use of clot-busting drugs to abort a heart attack to the newer, less invasive laparoscopic surgical techniques. “We couldn’t have responded to the growth and delivered the quality of services we have without top-notch doctors.”

Like many of his colleagues, internist Dr. John Weigel served his entire career locally before retiring last year after nearly 36 years. “I believe the medical expertise available at Calvert is as good as it is anywhere.” He added, “I was very comfortable having my own family being taken care of at Calvert. That’s about the highest compliment you can get.”
Volunteers Represent a Vital Force
“It gives me a lot of satisfaction to know that I’m doing something that is helping somebody else,” said retired pediatric nurse Janet Allyn, who has given over 9,000 hours in her 27 years of volunteer service.

The hospital auxiliary can trace its roots back to 1922. In the early days, the volunteers earned money for coal to keep the hospital warm, would sew sheets and do the laundry. For 96 years, their commitment has remained constant and steady. Whatever was needed – they did it.

They have raised funds, staffed the gift shop, manned the information desk, delivered newspapers, greeted visitors, operated a thrift shop and worked side-by-side with our employees, providing helpful services to our patients, families and visitors. Since 2007, they’ve donated $782,000 and in 2017, gave their largest one-year gift of $105,000. They were also the single largest contributor to the 2004-2008 Capital Campaign.

In 2016, they became CalvertHealth Volunteer Services – a change that reflects their expanded role. Today, they serve in more than 70 different areas on campus and off. In the last 10 years, they’ve volunteered 228,000 hours representing a huge savings to the organization. That savings is a major asset for CalvertHealth because it means those funds can be used to enhance other services and programs.

“To us their value is beyond measure,” said Teague. “For 96 years, they have been a vital and vibrant addition to the CalvertHealth family. We are more grateful than they can possibly imagine.”
Donors Help Fulfill the Mission
The people of the county were so eager to support the first hospital; they made more than $2,000 in pledges at the 1919 dedication. Neighbors with ice houses gave ice. Farmers donated fruits and vegetables.

In the 1950s, area homemakers raised funds for an automatic washer and dryer, as well as a freezer, for the one-story brick building. The hospital’s history is filled with stories of those who have stepped forward to make meaningful gifts. “The hospital has always enjoyed strong community support,” said Xinis, who formed the hospital’s foundation in 1989.

The Donovan family of Chesapeake Beach is just one example. “For as long as I can remember,” said Gerald W. Donovan, “CalvertHealth has a history of improving health care for our community. My father (Frederick J. Donovan) served on the board. My sister, Joanie Kilmon, followed in his footsteps and served on the committee, which began focusing on wellness as an integral part of health care.

“Donations after the death of my grandfather, Wesley Stinnett, were the foundation for the scholarship fund that continues today,” he added. “Our hospital has been there for all of us – you, me, our friends and our families. We are proud to do our part.”

Their generosity is mirrored by thousands more from the medical staff, board members, the auxiliary, employees, businesses, corporate vendors and caring individuals from the community. “I tell people whatever you do will make an impact,” said Foundation board member Maria Lubrano. “In a small way, we are all part of what is being accomplished.”
The Role of a Community Hospital
“What’s most important for people to know is the hospital is there for them,” said former board chairman Henry Trentman. “It’s a resource for them and it’s continually being updated for them. Our job as a community hospital is to be responsive to community needs.”

“I can tell you when I had my car accident recently, it reinforced my understanding of thank God it’s there when you need it,” said Krug.

Trentman also stressed the importance of quality and patient safety at CalvertHealth Medical Center. “It’s the cornerstone of any hospital and it’s important for people to know that it gets a lot of attention.” At present, CalvertHealth has the lowest mortality and one of the lowest readmission rates statewide.

“I’m very proud we’ve received Accreditation with Commendation five times in a row,” said Susan Dohony, chief quality officer. “Things evolve so quickly in health care. We are continually looking at best practices and making changes to meet the needs of the community.”

Creating an optimal patient experience has become a major focus for CHMC. “As a result, we’ve seen the numbers go up on our patient satisfaction surveys,” said Stewart. “They are way higher than they’ve ever been.” The most recent quarter had CalvertHealth with the third highest scores in Maryland based on how patients rated their stay after they went home. Showalter emphasized the board’s commitment to ensuring that every member of the community – across the board – has access to the same level of high quality care as everybody else and it’s close to home.

Fowler said all of this has contributed to making the hospital a real drawing card for the community. “I think a lot of the progress we’ve enjoyed in the county we have to credit to the high quality of healthcare facilities we have.”

His perspective is shared by former county commissioner Hagner Mister, whose family has lived in Calvert for seven generations. He remembers when there were only four doctors and one dentist. “The hospital means a lot to a lot of people; especially to have one that good right here at home. It’s a great asset to Calvert County.”
Caring People are the Heart
“It’s the caring that defines the fundamental core of CalvertHealth Medical Center,” said Showalter, 15-year-board member and a former nurse. “Our employees truly care about their patients. People are treated like family.”

“Having worked in bigger city hospitals, I can tell you it’s a very different kind of environment,” she added. “People work here because it’s where they want to be.” The sense of teamwork and camaraderie permeates the culture at CHMC.

“When you walk down the hall, it’s just like you’re there with your brothers and sisters,” said Marilyn Montgomery, RN, who has 45 years of service. “You always feel like somebody has got your back, like you are always supported.” She is in charge of ordering all the supplies and equipment for surgical services.

“The best part of my day,” said Karen Seekford, RN, who joined CMH in 1988, “is being with (the Level 2 team), leading them and guiding them in the right direction.” She was named Nurse of the Year in 2014, for her skillful teaching, willingness to help others and dedication to providing exceptional patient care.

At the center of it all is the patient. “Whenever I entered a patient’s room, I kept one thing in mind, that patient could be me or someone dear to me,” said Marine Thomas (her badge at left), who was 18 when she started as a nurse’s aide at the one-story hospital in 1959 making 50 cents an hour. When she retired in 1995, she was an emergency medical technician. “I just loved it.”

Although his role in information services is mainly behind the scenes, Wilson Hawkins said, “I like knowing what I just implemented or fixed will improve the care we provide.” Hawkins, who started as a data processing operator in 1988, is now the Network Team Leader and is responsible for maintaining the hospital network infrastructure.

Tony Gross (at left) summed it up best when he said, “My goal is to give the kind of high-quality service I would be pleased with if I were on the receiving end.” He has worked in Food and Nutrition Services for 39 years.
Building a Healthier Tomorrow
“CalvertHealth is a reflection of what matters most – the people of Calvert and their well-being,” said Teague. “To us, it is more than a name; it’s our commitment to building a healthier tomorrow for our community.”

At every turn, CalvertHealth is moving forward to advance quality and improve safety to deliver a better patient experience. The new private rooms under construction promise better outcomes along with better sleep. “It’s what our community deserves,” Teague added.

“Our goal is to provide the best community-based care we can,” he said. “From growing our employed provider network to offering after-hours care at our urgent care centers to bringing essential services to underserved areas with our mobile health center.”

Newly-elected board chairperson Terri Wolfley added, “An important part of our fiveyear strategic plan is the focus on population health and developing new ways to keep our community healthy.”

“A few years ago, we adopted a new mission and vision that defines who we aspire to be and what we aspire to do,” said Teague. “At CalvertHealth, we stand for health, for care and for doing our best every day.”