MedStar Health Unveils $3.2 Million Expansion at Curtis National Hand Center VIP Event

MedStar Health Unveils $3.2 Million Expansion at Curtis National Hand Center VIP Event

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MedStar Health unveils the Curtis National Hand Center expansion project.

World renowned site celebrates deeply rooted history of education and innovative hand surgery. 

BALTIMORE – MedStar Health unveiled its newly renovated and expanded Curtis National Hand Center (CNHC) at MedStar Union Memorial Hospital April 24th, during a ribbon cutting celebration centered on philanthropy, the historical significance the center has on hand surgery as a specialty, and innovative patient care.

Dr. James Higgins speaks at an event to mark MedStar Health's unveiling of the Curtis National Hand Center expansion project.
James P. Higgins, MD, chief of the Curtis National Hand Center and emcee of the recent celebration and ribbon cutting, provides a retrospect on the deep roots the Hand Center has in the field of hand surgery.

Recognized nationally and internationally as a leader in the care of the hand and upper extremity, the Curtis National Hand Center is the largest hand center in the world, comprised of 14 surgeons, a skilled hand therapy department, a premier fellowship training program, and a leading research division.

In late 2022, MedStar Health closed the center in MedStar Union Memorial’s Johnston Professional Building, to start the $3.2 million renovation project- most of the funds coming from federal earmarked money and philanthropic donations. Hand doctors and therapists continued treating patients in other offices around the hospital.

Doors are now opened to the over 25,000 patients who are treated at the Hand Center annually. Of those, an average 1800 patients are admitted with traumatic injuries. MedStar Union Memorial is the only site in the state designated by the Maryland Institute for Emergency Medical Service Systems as a hand and extremity trauma center, and the only hospital in the country with one.

James P. Higgins, medical director, and chief of the Hand Center, served as emcee of the event, and opened the speaker program with a retrospect on the center’s founder, Raymond C. Curtis, MD.  Dr. Curtis started a practice at Union Memorial Hospital in 1947 after being discharged from the Army. He started a center focused on the then fledgling specialty of surgery of the hand, combining expertise in orthopedic, neurosurgery, and plastic surgery.

“Fortunately, we have been the recipients of his legacy of putting a priority on education,” Dr. Higgins said. “Ray Curtis said that it is important that we serve as a clinical center but also a training center. Our four (annual) civilian fellows represent the best of the best, coming from the best institutions in the world, are the most recent of 160 hand fellows that graduated our program and are now leaders around the country and around the globe.

Uniformed military physicians also attended the event, representing the long-term collaboration between the Curtis National Hand Center and Walter Reed Army Medical Center. The Hand Center has trained every Army hand surgeon since 1963.

MedStar Health unveils the Curtis National Hand Center expansion project.
Congressman Dutch Ruppersberger: “Maryland is blessed to have a world class Hand Center in its backyard.”

Congressman Dutch Ruppersberger and Senator Ben Cardin, who secured $1.5 million of the renovation funds through federal appropriations, were invited to speak and cut the ribbon.

“Maryland is blessed to have a world class hand center in its back yard, Congressman Ruppersberger said. “The new center is larger, enabling the physicians to work at the same time. It can accommodate the most cutting-edge technology and expand access to telehealth appointments.”

Former patient Andriy Koropeckyj spoke about his experience following a tragic car accident that claimed the life of his wife and shattered his arm. He credited CNHC hand surgeons, five surgeries and hand therapy, for helping him regain use of it. “Whenever they looked at it, they were already looking for the solution,” he said. “It was personal. They were committed to making me better. I can never say thank you enough to everyone who has helped me here.”

MedStar Health unveils the Curtis National Hand Center expansion project.
Senator Ben Cardin: “You’re the best in the world in what you do.”

“You're number one in giving hope to people who have no other place to be,” said Senator Ben Cardin. “You are the best in the world in what you do. And you're providing it in patient care, you're providing it in training, you're providing it in research, and you never stop. Dutch and I are so proud to represent you in the Congress. … And we're just so proud of everything you do every day, and we're proud to be part of this moment as we cut a ribbon to your expanded facilities.”

MedStar Health unveils the Curtis National Hand Center expansion project.
Chief Medical Officer, MedStar Health, Stephen R.T. Evans, MD

Dr. Stephen R. T. Evans, executive vice president of medical affairs and chief medical officer for MedStar Health described the elite expertise in hand and arm reconstructions that attract patients from all over the world. Specific complex surgeries to treat unique upper extremity problems such as for Kienbocks disease and a congenital deficit called radial club hand, are available only at the Curtis National Hand Center.

MedStar Health President and CEO, Kenneth A. Samet, FACHE, paid tribute to Shaw Wilgis, MD, one of the founding physicians of the Hand Center and who attended the event. Dr. Wilgis stepped into the role of chief when Dr. Curtis retired in 1982. Through Dr. Wilgis’s efforts, Hand Center was designated by the 103rd Congress, to be the only national hand center in the country.

MedStar Health unveils the Curtis National Hand Center expansion project.
MedStar Health President and CEO Ken Samet and Hand Center co-founder/former chief, E.F. Shaw Wilgis, MD, get a tour of the renovated Curtis National Hand Center, guided by Dr. Higgins.

Dr. Wilgis stepped down as chief of the CNHC in 1998 to become its first director of research, where he mentored dozens of residents and fellows. He then ascended to the MedStar Health system board and was chairman of it when Ken Samet was named CEO in 2008.

“He was a physician, a surgeon, a leader,” Samet said. “Shaw, what I’d say to you, is your handprints are everywhere. Not just on my career, but across MedStar Health, and I can’t thank you enough.”

The program concluded with site tours, which featured:

  • Larger, well-appointed patient and family areas
  • Strategically designed floorplan that optimizes workspace for up to five physicians working simultaneously
  • Upgraded space for two radiology suites for imaging: x-ray, ultrasound 
  • A fluoroscopy suite to assess the real-time dynamic behavior of the wrist in motion
  • Five pods with three patient evaluation rooms each 
  • Workrooms fitted for tele-visits to meet the virtual appointment demand
  • Improved workspace for medical assistants and administrative staff to optimize efficiency and communication
  • HIPAA sensitive scheduling areas 

Click here for more information on the Curtis National Hand Center. For appointments, call: