In today’s health care environment, sometimes keeping your community healthy means fighting to shut down a toxic business that’s just around the corner from the hospital.
That was the case for the University of Maryland Rehabilitation & Orthopaedic Institute, in the Dickeyville neighborhood of Baltimore. The facility is just around the corner from a troubled gas station, which had long been the source of guns, drugs and violence. There have been numerous incidents stemming from the station, including two shootings and continual drug trafficking, says Cynthia Kelleher, the hospital’s CEO.
With victims of violence showing up at the hospital, employees fearful for their safety, and the gas station owner apparently complicit in allowing such crime, UM decided it could no longer stand on the sideline.
“Even though the community had tried several times to do something about this, they had no impact, and that’s when the hospital decided to get involved,” Kelleher said during a webinar last month hosted by the American Hospital Association’s section for long-term care and rehab. “Because obviously, this impacts our patients, our families, and it impacts our staff and the ability to recruit.”
UM began working closely with police and Baltimore elected officials, aiming to apply political pressure to quash the gas station. Together, they worked to dust off a “padlock order” — which hadn’t been used in the city in 10 years — to shut the station down in June 2016.
For Kelleher, the turning point occurred when she sent a memo to hospital staffers, urging them to not patronize both the gas station as well as a chain sandwich shop in the strip mall connected to it. Having 700 employees suddenly stop patronizing your business, she says, was powerful. Kelleher admits, however, that she struggled with sending the message, as it required admitting that Dickeyville could sometimes be unsafe and it put UM in murky territory by urging its employees not to put their dollars into a local business.
Kelleher was skeptical at first that her institution should take such a central role in ending the gas station’s negative influence on the neighborhood, but she quickly changed her tune. Communities need the hospital’s powerful voice, and ability to lead, to address such problems, she says.
“My views have definitely changed,” she says. “But what we did from a hospital standpoint, and what I think we all can do, is these community groups, even though they kind of have a sense of what to do, they really need our organizational abilities.”
The hospital did so by helping to organize a 20-member, communitywide group named the Forest Park Action Council (the station is at the corner of Forest Park and Windsor Mill Road). That group included everyone from leaders at two local churches to the principal of Dickey Hill Elementary/Middle School and representatives from several nearby apartment buildings.
After their continuing work and vigilance, the gas station recently reopened under new ownership, celebrated at a ceremony that included remarks from Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh. The UM Rehab & Orthopaedic Institute also chipped in dollars for a new 24/7 camera system on the premises that has helped lead to the arrest of 26 individuals involved in illicit activities, says B. Lynn Williams, the manager of security and telecommunications services for the hospital. For Williams, vigilance is critical going forward.
“If there are any incidents that transpire, we are immediately on the phone,” she says. “FPAC is not playing. They’re serious about what they want to do, and they want to take back their community. And that’s what we’ve done.”
For more on the AHA’s Hospitals Against Violence initiative, be sure to check out Hospitals & Health Networks’ November feature on hospital-based violence intervention programs and the HAV webpage, which includes a recording of this October webinar.