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The nonprofit company that owns Harford County's two hospitals has agreed to be acquired by the larger University of Maryland Medical System.

A strategic affiliation between Bel Air-based Upper Chesapeake Health System and University of Maryland Medical System, or UMMS, was announced by their boards of directors Tuesday. Upper Chesapeake owns Upper Chesapeake Medical Center in Bel Air and Harford Memorial Hospital in Havre de Grace and is Harford County's largest private employer. UMMS owns and operates nine hospitals around the state including its flagship University of Maryland Hospital in Baltimore.

According to a joint press statement, the two organizations plan a full merger by 2013. While their initial affiliation is not expected to have a visible change on health care services in Harford County, it will bring Upper Chesapeake greater to access to capital for future expansion and access to a larger pool of primary care physicians and specialists, at a time when the state and region are facing a doctor shortage.

"This is very exciting; it's a great opportunity for both of us," Robert Chrencik, UMMS's president and CEO, said Tuesday. "Upper Chesapeake is a very valuable addition to our system. It will be a very, very important part going forward."

Chrencik said UMUC favors a "decentralized" administrative structure, and Upper Chesapeake will continue to operate under its existing management. He said the primary advantage of the affiliation for Harford County residents will be they will not have to leave the county for the majority of their health care needs, as more clinical services will become available locally.

To complete the affiliation, UMMS bought out the interest of St. Joseph Medical System in an ambulatory care center on the Upper Chesapeake Medical System campus in Bel Air. UMMS will have two directors on the 17-member board, replacing two St. Joseph directors. Chrencik said Upper Chesapeake will have a seat on the UMMS board.

For more information, read the July 3 edition of The Aegis or visit www.theaegis.com.


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