Physician technology to assist with ultrasound procedures.
Physician technology to assist with ultrasound procedures.

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Finding your niche in Baltimore

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Baltimore physicians in 2002 have joined forces to fight allowing CareFirst (Blue Cross) to convert to a for-profit status and sell to WellPoint, a California Blues Company. The insurance company cites access to capital and enhancing competitive position as its reasons for the convert-and-sell plan. The Maryland Hospital Association, in particular, argues that CareFirst has the necessary assets to improve operations—with $700 million in reserves—without the stock market’s capital. Conversions in other states haven’t led to lower premiums or better service, says Fiedler, and the proposal will likely lead to a lower percentage of premiums going to medical care.

Doctors’ concerns, of course, center around where this potential player will look to squeeze money. With hospital rates regulated, physician practices become the target. Primary care physicians in particular have been actively outspoken in the discussions. Of the approximately 400 people who have testified before the insurance commission at press time, Fiedler estimates 15 percent were practicing doctors.

So why Baltimore?

Baltimore certainly isn’t the only large city on the East Coast: DC lies just 45 minutes south, with Philadelphia, Boston, and New York City a quick zip via mass transportation. But physicians ultimately flock here because Maryland is known as “America the Miniature.” Desert is the only geographical landmark missing from its landscape.

Indeed, Simpler owns a beach house two hours away where her three children enjoy a dip in the ocean. Other professionals lean toward sailing along the Chesapeake Bay or skiing in the mountains two hours to the west. “We love spending the day at Busch Gardens Williamsburg—it’s a nicer amusement park than Disney World,” says Simpler.

First-time Baltimore visitors gravitate toward the Inner Harbor lights, where shops, restaurants and hotels reign. Professional sports spotlights include 2001 Super Bowl Champion Baltimore Ravens, the Orioles baseball team, and the Preakness horse race each May. Cultural attractions include everything from the Babe Ruth Museum to Edgar Allan Poe House, Fort McHenry National Monument, the Maryland Science Center, and the National Aquarium. History buffs dig around the U.S.S. Constellation by day, then take in one of the city’s live theaters, the Baltimore Opera, or Baltimore Symphony Orchestra when the sun goes down. There’s enough to do here to entertain 13 million visitors annually.

“Once people come here and go down to the city, it’s phenomenal what they can do,” says Dwyer. “We’re very  happening.” In fact, Forbes magazine named the Baltimore/Washington area third best place in the nation to be single, thanks to its number of nightclubs, bars, restaurants, cultural offerings, and pro sports teams. This can be yours, Mayor Martin O’Malley invites, for a lower cost than DC. He kicked off a six-month advertising campaign this summer to drive that point home. Properties range from $35,000 for a rehab project to $375,000 for 8,000 square feet of recently renovated house. “Stately homes with rich architectural detail, and a mortgage you can actually afford,” the ads scream.

Most physicians, says Simpler, choose to live in the Howard County or Baltimore County suburbs, although Dwyer sees professionals showing a growing interest in eclectic urban neighborhoods like Fells Point, Federal Hill, and Canton on the city’s east side. According to the Baltimore Sun, the city led all other jurisdictions in the metropolitan area for home sales the first five months of 2002. In response, the Housing Department began offering licensing and permits on line, to speed homeowners’ renovation requirements by 40 percent.

City leaders have turned to the medical community to help fight the city’s worst public relations problem: crime. In July, the police kicked off a sting operation allowing the Health Department to shut down merchants selling guns to the under-21 crowd under the umbrella of “public health and safety.” It’s the first time a health commissioners’ inspection powers have expanded to enforce laws normally relegated to police.

In the past two years, Baltimore also began providing drug treatment on a large scale—the largest in the country, according to police department sources. The number of residents actively receiving treatment shot up 32 percent from 1999 to 2000, and drugrelated ER visits fell by 19 percent. That’s the largest decrease in American cities, too. Totaled, Baltimore’s proactive attacks paid off in a 23 percent drop in violent crime. You guessed it…the biggest reduction in the nation.

Residents claim the climate is milder than one might assume, with the coldest month averaging 33 degrees. They also dispute the image of a crowded, unfeeling metropolis that most East Coast cities endure. “We’re a wonderful city,” Dwyer sums up. “Most people who move to Baltimore stay a lifetime.”

Julie Sturgeon regularly contributes feature articles as well as community profiles to UO

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Julie Sturgeon

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