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50 years of caring

The Western Maryland Hospital Center has cared for more than 9,000 patients since opening in 1957

The Western Maryland Hospital Center has cared for more than 9,000 patients since opening in 1957

April 02, 2007|By PEPPER BALLARD

HAGERSTOWN-Rich McQuarrie, a physical therapist at the Western Maryland Hospital Center, helped a patient improve his gait on a recent morning.

McQuarrie held the patient by the arm and encouraged the man, who had suffered a traumatic brain injury, as he slowly made his way through the hallway.

McQuarrie said he works with about five people a day to help them with their various needs.

"I like to feel this facility is a secret oasis," McQuarrie said.

McQuarrie said he left a higher paying job to work at the Western Maryland Hospital Center because he wanted to spend more time with patients.

"You can't underestimate compassion," said Cindy Pellegrino, the hospital's CEO. "It's so important that the patient has the sense of hope and the ability to heal."

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Helping patients has been something the Western Maryland Hospital Center has been doing for half a century. The long-term specialty-care hospital has cared for more than 9,000 patients with complicated ailments since it opened on Veterans Day 1957.

Over the years, it has offered more and more services for the ailing, including dialysis for its patients in the early 1970s and a ventilator program in the 1980s, Pellegrino said.

A staff of about 300 works at the hospital, which takes patients who are referred by state hospitals to Western Maryland for rehabilitative and extended-care services, Pellegrino said.

The patients are "all a challenge, every single one of them. They don't get here unless they are very, very ill," she said. "I feel comfortable saying that if they can't be rehabbed here, nobody's going to rehab them."

'Major success stories'

The hospital is only one of two rehabilitative hospitals in Maryland. It takes patients from Garrett County to the Chesapeake Bay who need extended care or rehabilitative services. Washington County Hospital, Johns Hopkins University and the University of Maryland are its top referral hospitals.

There are frequently waiting lists to get to Western Maryland Hospital Center, which has 123 beds.

The state's other rehabilitative hospital, Deer's Head Hospital Center in Salisbury, Md., takes patients from the Eastern Shore, Pellegrino said.

In the hospital's early years, each hospital room was occupied by six patients, and doctors were responsible for much of the care, Pellegrino said.

Stays have varied for patients, who have been as young as 16, she said. One woman - a quadriplegic - has been at the hospital 21 years, which Pellegrino said is a testament to the care the hospital provides.

Christopher Reeve, who suffered from the same type of injury, lived nine years after his diagnosis - two years longer than most - and he had "the best of everything," she said.

"We have major success stories all the time," she said.

Pellegrino recalled a patient who had juvenile diabetes who received a pancreatic transplant. That patient later fell ill with a rare form of pneumonia, causing him to lose the transplant. He was sent from Hopkins to the Western Maryland Hospital Center for extended treatment.

From there, "He went home to independent life and had a remarkable recovery," Pellegrino said.

Former patients return

"I really owe my life to this place," said N. Linn Hendershot, who is the communications director for the hospital.

Hendershot went to the hospital as a patient in 1997 after falling ill while working at the Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta. Pellegrino said it hasn't been unusual for former patients to come back to the hospital, either to work or volunteer.

Hendershot said the hospital cares for a lot of people who suffer from strokes and brain injuries.

The hospital is remodeling a floor to accommodate brain injury patients. The floor will have lower lighting, less noise and other amenities to accommodate those patients, Pellegrino said.

At one point, the hospital helped more people who had cancer. There are several patients with degenerative diseases, such as multiple sclerosis and ALS - amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly known at Lou Gehrig's disease - but Hendershot said the hospital's staff encourages patients to be as independent as they can.

"We're not into warehousing people," Hendershot said.

With the intake of seriously ill patients, deaths occasionally occur and can be very hard on the staff, Pellegrino said.

"The staff mourns those patients like they were family," Pellegrino said.

'I belong here'

Volunteer Millie Fiery, who helped form the hospital's auxiliary in 1957, got tearful when she recalled the patients she has seen die and the friends she has watched get admitted to hospital.

"I've been a healthy old horse," said Fiery, 92. "I think often about how lucky I am to be here and do what I do."

Fiery delivers mail and performs "odd jobs" to help out.

She buttoned up her pink smock on a recent morning and, in a cheerful voice, announced, "Now I feel like I belong here."

Pellegrino said the hospital plans to celebrate its anniversary throughout the year. It already has held a "Sock Hop" and, in the fall, will hold a garden party that will be open to the public.

It is co-hosting a seminar, "Optimizing Clinical Outcomes: Ethics, Pain, and Rehabilitation," for the health-care community on May 17 at Robinwood Medical Center.

On Nov. 11 - its actual anniversary - a "birthday party" is planned for the patients and staff.

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