More than 100 residents of Worcester County, one of three Maryland counties without a hospital, traveled to Annapolis yesterday to ask the General Assembly to exempt a proposed 75-bed hospital in Berlin from legislation that would impose an immediate moratorium on hospital construction.
The legislation, the first of seven health-care measures proposed by Gov. Harry Hughes to receive a hearing, would halt until October the administrative review of about $73 million worth of hospital building projects.
Supporters of the bill, 99 of whom signed up yesterday to testify before the House Environmental Matters Committee, argue that the moratorium is needed to give state health regulators time to study the state's excess hospital capacity, which is expected to total 4,100 beds by 1988.
But the Worcester County residents and supporters of an expansion planned at Howard County General Hospital argued yesterday that the moratorium would penalize areas where hospital needs are growing or unmet.
"These people need a hospital," said Irvin Bainum, one of the partners in Atlantic General Hospital Inc., a corporation that intends to spend nearly $9 million to build a for-profit hospital in Berlin.
If approved, the facility would be one of just five proprietary hospitals in the state.
Similar arguments were offered by Howard County Council Chairman C. Vernon Gray on behalf of Howard County General, which has filed for permission to add 17 beds to its 173-bed facility.
"In the last four months," said Gray, "Howard County General has had an occupancy rate of 94 percent."
The House Environmental Matters Committee will hear testimony on other bills in the governor's health care package today and Thursday.