Prince George’s officials focus on state money for regional hospital -- Gazette.Net


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Now that Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III has won the struggle for a casino in the county, he is turning his attention to securing funding for a new regional medical center.

“This session is the money session,” Baker (D) said Wednesday, noting that the state would be asked to contribute about $200 million in capital funding for a new hospital, plus additional costs for running the facility until it becomes profitable. “There are a couple of other issues that are priorities this session, but the hospital is number one on that list,” he noted.

Prince George’s leaders have been forging a relationship with University of Maryland Medical System officials, as the county prepares to ask the state for help in building a regional hospital in which the medical system would have a stake.

“The state has demonstrated their support of health care needs in Prince George’s County,” said Del. Melony G. Griffith (D-Dist. 25) of Upper Marlboro. “Our ask is consistent with the support to other health care projects.”

A financial analysis of the project and the needs of the entire Prince George’s hospital system is due out this month, identifying funding sources and costs.

“We’re close to an agreement on finance,” said Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown. “Politics is the art of allocating resources in a fair and equitable way, and we’re trying to do that here.”

Paying for a $600 million, 300-bed facility would be split among the state, the county and Dimensions Healthcare System, which currently operates five health care facilities in the county, or the University of Maryland Medical System. UMMS, a $3.2 billion private hospital operation with nine facilities making up 20 percent of the hospital industry in Maryland, signed a memorandum of understanding in 2011 with the state, the county and Dimensions that led to a partnership between the two hospital systems to improve care at Prince George’s County hospitals and put UMMS doctors in some Dimensions facilities.

In December, county officials visited the University of Maryland Medical Center’s shock trauma center and its helipad in Baltimore, a tour that Griffith called “very timely” in light of the looming General Assembly session.

“We view Prince George’s as a great opportunity for us to grow,” said Robert Chrencik, president and CEO of the University of Maryland Medical System. He noted that while forming a partnership with Dimensions, his hospital system has kept the new hospital project at arm’s length, unsure how much of a financial obligation the system can take on.

UMMS officials said they have to carefully weigh the costs to the system of taking on Prince George’s County, including assuming existing Dimensions debt and $100 million in unfunded pension obligations, as well as the cost of building a stronger primary care network to improve the overall health of the county.

Dimensions, which treats 180,000 patients annually, receives $30 million from the state and county annually to stay afloat. In fiscal 2012, it dispensed more than $60 million in uncompensated care.

Analysis by UMMS suggests that a new hospital center could be profitable within two years of a projected 2017 completion, officials of the medical system told county leaders in December.

“This will be a true commitment on the part of the county, on the part of the state, and on the part of UMMS,” said Del. Jolene Ivey (D-Dist. 47) of Cheverly, chairwoman of the Prince George’s legislative delegation. “But the biggest thing we’ve needed is the will, and we have the will. We have so many Prince George’s residents with major health concerns.”

For the University of Maryland Medical System, a new hospital is a chance to expand its footprint in the state, snagging a greater share of the hospital industry in Maryland, just as the expansion of health care through the federal Affordable Care Act promises to increase demand for health services.

“The stars seem to be aligned a little bit differently with this project,” said John W. Ashworth III, senior vice president of network development for the medical system, citing the enthusiasm of state and local officials, as well as a renewed focus on health care at all levels. “There is tremendous enthusiasm for this project.”

hnunn@gazette.net