For nearly 34 years at University of Maryland Baltimore Washington Medical Center (UM BWMC), Karen Olscamp has worn many hats, including president and CEO since 2008. As she looks forward to retirement in January 2021 and reflects on her career, she cites her variety of roles as something that kept her so engaged for so long.
“A career in health care is really meaningful work and it’s interesting,” said Olscamp, a native of Buffalo, New York, who joined the hospital in 1987 as an administrative resident. “It’s meaningful just in the incredible privilege and opportunity to impact people’s lives, to make a difference in the world. At the same time, it is intellectually interesting. It’s such a unique blend of science and business and human skills, and it’s certainly not dull.”
Olscamp often marvels at the “explosion of knowledge and technology” she has witnessed over the last three decades, from cancer-treating drugs to the University of Maryland Proton Center, which delivers radiation to patients via proton beams.
She has also overseen UM BWMC’s growth to an organization with more than 3,500 employees and nearly 1,000 providers on staff.
“We are now the second-largest hospital within the 13-hospital University of Maryland system. We’re one of the largest hospitals in Central Maryland,” she said. “But we also provide complex and sophisticated care here, so we’re the only hospital in the county to do intracranial neurosurgeries. We do robotic surgeries here. We do endovascular aortic procedures here.”
With advances in technology and growth within the organization, UM BWMC was able to help more patients. In 2009, it opened the Pascal Women's Center, which provided pregnancy and childbirth care to the community after a 41-year hiatus. That same year, the medical center opened a new patient tower with 111 additional private rooms. During the last several years, UM BWMC has completed a $31 million surgical suite expansion, launched a new electronic medical record system, opened new nursing units, constructed a second state-of-the-art endovascular suite, and increased the number of inpatient beds to the behavioral health and labor and delivery units.
Last year, the medical center was approved to construct a new five-story medical office building that will feature space for outpatient specialty care, a retail pharmacy and community wellness center. It is scheduled to open in late 2021.
As University of Maryland Medical System President and CEO Mohan Suntha noted, Olscamp’s contributions to UM BWMC and the community have been immense.
“Karen will be greatly missed across the University of Maryland Medical System for her leadership, compassion and wisdom,” Suntha said. “We offer our deepest thanks for her tireless efforts for almost 34 years.”
During Olscamp’s time as president and CEO, UM BWMC has been honored by the American Heart Association, US News & World Report, the Maryland Patient Safety Center and the Leapfrog Group for its delivery of safe, high-quality care. She gives all credit to the employees at UM BWMC.
“Some of the most important things we do as leaders is to set the culture and develop good people, and then that strong culture really attracts good people,” she said. “They are the driving force behind our organizational success. I’m very grateful for the people at BWMC who allow us to provide that care, and then the awards come.”
Awards offer one form of satisfaction, but Olscamp has been especially grateful for the outpouring of support during the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2019 alone, UM BWMC provided $23 million in health education, preventative services and in-kind support of public health programs to vulnerable and underserved populations in the community. During the pandemic, the community has shown its gratitude for that investment as well as the unwavering care offered by UM BWMC’s staff.
“They have been amazing and strong in so many ways,” Olscamp said. “As an organization anchored in our community, we really came together with key partners and to answer the call of our community at the time of their greatest need. To me, that collective response has been a tremendous source of pride and inspiration for our organization. I’m so very grateful for our community and all they have done to support us.”
Once the pandemic ends, Olscamp plans to travel to Antarctica, South Africa and Australia. In the meantime, she will spend time with family and friends.
“Retirement is a tremendous opportunity to reinvent myself,” she said. “I may be retiring as CEO, but I’m not retiring from life, so it’s a great opportunity and I’m excited about creating a new future.”