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Meritus CEO: We can’t afford not to invest in our dedicated workforce

Hospital, health system commits to increase minimum wage to $20/hour over next two years Meritus Health, Washington County’s only integrated health system and one of the region’s largest employers, has committed to increase its minimum wage to $20 per hour in a multi-phased approach over the next two years. In 2023, the health system increased its minimum wage from $15 per hour to $17. This most recent investment will place Meritus a leader in the region and state for healthcare pay rates. “This is the third time in three years that we have committed to increasing our organization’s minimum wage,” said President and CEO Maulik Joshi, Dr. P.H. “Our workforce is our community, and a livable wage is so important. We simply can’t afford not to invest in our dedicated workforce.” The first phase of the increases will begin July 1, 2024, and impact 500 frontline team members, including Medical Assistants, Certified Nursing Assistants, Phlebotomists and Emergency Department Technicians. By January 2027, all positions will have moved to the increased pay scale. As part of the investment in its workforce, Meritus is also providing a performance-based bonus structure and incentives to long-standing team members as they achieve years of service milestones.  Joshi emphasized the health system’s goal to encourage local community members to begin a career with the health system versus a temporary job. Meritus offers employees opportunities for tuition reimbursement and educational opportunities. Joshi said many can enter the health system in a minimum wage, entry-level role, take advantage of educational benefits and earn advanced degrees and achieve higher-level career milestones and goals. Whether an employee supports the frontlines of healthcare delivery or serves in a support department, Joshi said working at Meritus means they are all healthcare workers.  “Every single position in our organizations helps us live our mission of improving the health of the community,” Joshi said. “We can’t provide the best care without long-serving, dedicated team members. We are thrilled to offer this commitment to them.” In 2021, Meritus increased its minimum wage to $15 an hour, four years ahead of state-mandated increases. That hike impacted 1,100 employees at an investment of $2.8 million. In 2023, the health system invested an additional $3 million to increase minimum wage to $17. Joshi said many factors, including turnover rates, cost of living and a desire of Meritus to be a nationally ranked employer influenced the decision.  “The cost of living continues to rise and as a result, many hospitals and healthcare systems are struggling with vacancy rates, losing entry-level workers to other industries with higher starting rates. Unlike other industries, we cannot safely operate with vacancies,” he said. “I’m honored to work with some of our community’s most talented and dedicated workers. Ensuring that we are supporting them and providing them with a livable wage is so important. They make excellent care possible in this community, and investing in them is paramount to us caring for our community.”

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No patient will miss an appointment because they don’t have a ride

With support from Maryland Physicians Care, Meritus develops free transportation initiative to reduce barrier A Meritus Health initiative has made it possible for Joan Yarlick and hundreds of other patients to get to medical appointments they otherwise would have missed due to a lack of transportation. Yarlick moved to Hagerstown 10 years ago, leaving behind her car in California. To get to the doctor, she had relied on other public and free forms of transportation, but they grew unreliable and unfriendly. “That’s when I noticed the Meritus vans in the neighborhood,” the Baltimore native said. “The next time I had an appointment, I asked about them.” Yarlick was among the early users this year of the Meritus Transportation initiative. As Meritus leaders continued to note a barrier for community members receiving care was a lack of transportation, they looked further into the issue. “We are committed that no one in Washington County, for any circumstance, will miss a medical appointment due to transportation issues,” said Maulik Joshi, Meritus president and CEO. “Understanding barriers to receiving important care is paramount to improving the health of our community. We will continue to develop and expand our program to support the community’s need.” Meritus has eight vans, and those scheduling medical appointments are asking patients if they need transportation to coordinate a ride, no matter where in the health system they’re going. The service is already averaging more than 300 rides per week, which equates to more than 15,000 free rides a year. The Meritus Transportation service is an answer to a problem repeatedly raised by those surveyed in the Healthy Washington County FY 2022 Community Health Needs Assessment: Transportation to outpatient medical services is a barrier for patients who do not have independent transport. Expansion was made possible with assistance from Maryland Physicians Care (MPC), a locally managed care organization owned in part by Meritus Health and three other hospitals in the state. “As Washington County’s largest Medicaid Managed Care Organization, MPC has a large number of members that lack access to transportation,” said MPC CEO Jason Rottman. “Transportation is critically important to allowing our members access to health care. This includes access to primary care, specialty care and pharmaceuticals. The transportation infrastructure Meritus Health created is a game-changing improvement not only for MPC’s members but also for other residents of Washington County who lack transportation.” Meritus is happy to help patients with safe and reliable transportation, whether they don’t have access to a vehicle or the ability to drive; they are experiencing a short-term injury or driving restriction; they use a wheelchair; or they need more help walking than what might be available through public transportation. As for Yarlick, she’ll continue using the courtesy van through the end of her physical therapy appointments this summer. In the meantime, she’s made friends with some of the drivers who have taken extra care to get her from her home to her appointments. If you are someone you know needs a free ride to a medical appointment, please call your Meritus physician's office or our dedicated scheduling center at 301-790-9355, and one of our caring team members will help coordinate the details.


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Understanding stroke: Prevention, recognition and management

In 2018, Meritus Medical Center was treating an average of 600 stroke patients per year. Since then, the number has increased to more than 1,000 per year, said Jennifer Smith, B.S.N., R.N., stroke care specialist at Meritus Medical Center. “We’ve seen a higher number especially since the COVID pandemic, but we’re also seeing more younger patients,” Smith said, adding that the hospital has seen stroke patients in their 30s. The reason for the increase in the young adults is due to how quickly poor lifestyle choices can affect the body and the overall risk for stroke in young adults. Experts have long known that diet and lifestyle contribute significantly to cardiovascular health. High cholesterol, diabetes and obesity are major risk factors. The American Heart Association highlights "Life's Essential 8" factors that have the most influence on cardiovascular health. Eat better, be more active, quit tobacco, get healthy sleep, manage weight, control cholesterol, manage blood sugar and manage blood pressure. Understanding stroke risk factors is crucial for prevention, Smith said. However, certain factors, such as age, race, gender and family history are beyond one's control. “That’s why you should follow up with your primary care provider regularly,” she said. Maryland became a Stroke Smart State in 2022, meaning there is increased focus on educating the public about the causes of stroke, the signs and symptoms of stroke, and the importance of dialing 9-1-1 immediately to reduce the chances of permanent disability or death. Meritus is working to get Washington County and Hagerstown to adopt a similar proclamation announcing they also are dedicated to being Stroke Smart. A part of being Stroke Smart includes educating the public to recognize the signs and symptoms of a stroke. Smith advocates for the BE FAST approach: Balance issues, dizziness, and nausea/vomiting Eyesight changes like blurred or double vision Facial drooping or muscle weakness, particularly on one side of the face Arm or leg weakness or numbness on one side of the body Speech difficulties such as slurred speech or trouble finding words Time to call 911 immediately upon experiencing these symptoms Meritus Medical Center, certified as a Primary Stroke Center since 2007, emphasizes swift action in stroke cases. Timely intervention is paramount to minimize brain damage. The more time between the onset of symptoms and treatment is more parts of the brain that could die. “It’s like they say, ‘Time is brain,’” Smith said. To learn more about stroke and stroke prevention, visit www.meritushealth.com/stroke.

Meritus celebrates groundbreaking of student housing complex

Meritus Commons to provide 340 housing units for future medical students Community leaders and supporters were joined by elected officials and community members Thursday evening to celebrate a groundbreaking ceremony for the student housing complex for the proposed Meritus School of Osteopathic Medicine. The complex, Meritus Commons, will include 340 one- and two-bedroom student apartments, a club house, commons area and dog park. The first 90 units will be completed in time for the proposed medical school’s first class to move in before the fall 2025 semester. The complex is just a quarter mile from the school’s flagship building, the D.M. Bowman Academic Hall, adjacent to the Meritus Medical Center campus, and will be accessible by a walking trail. “As we discussed our vision for the school, it was so clear that we wanted to provide a full campus experience for our students. It is essential that the students live here in Washington County,” said Dr. Paula Gregory, Dean of the proposed medical school. “By planting firm roots in our community, our hope and vision is that students will stay and practice medicine here and will love this community as much as we do.” Dave Lehr, Chief Operating Officer for the proposed medical school, told attendees the celebration was truly a celebration of Meritus’ investment in the community’s future, where there are ample physicians to provide essential services, one where the economy is bolstered and thriving, and one where higher education is accessible and poignant. “This is a critically important part of developing a world-class medical school in our community,” he said. “We aim to attract the best medical students in the country to our program. Part of attending medical school is living on campus, becoming part of the community and having access to all of the support that’s needed to thrive through such an arduous program.” Proposed Meritus School of Osteopathic Medicine The school’s flagship academic medical building, D.M. Bowman Academic Hall, remains on schedule for construction completion at the end of this year. The 200,000-square-foot, five-story building will house a state-of-the-art simulation center, simulation labs and a conference center that can host more than 600 people.  Economic impact  An independent economic impact study performed by Tripp Umbach shows the proposed Meritus School of Osteopathic Medicine will bring considerable benefits to the region. Capital impacts from 2023-2026 are estimated at $268 million dollars, with 1,595 jobs created and estimated tax revenue of $6.2 million dollars.  Once the school welcomes its first class, an estimated $500 million of economic impact is expected between 2025 and 2030, with more than $120 million per year to the Maryland GDP every year beyond 2030. “We know that health, education and the economy are all connected. Improving the economy of our region also enhances the health and wellness of our neighbors,” said Maulik Joshi, Meritus Health President and CEO. “We are thrilled to have a project that will improve and enhance so many important factors related to the quality of life in Washington County.” More information on the proposed Meritus School of Osteopathic Medical can be found at MSOM.org.


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