Prince George’s hospital plan should not rely on slots dollars, Baker says

Officials working on plans for a regional hospital to replace ailing Prince George’s Hospital Center say they expect by late March to know how many beds are needed and what type of outpatient health care is needed for the county’s nearly 1 million residents.

And they fervently hope that once the needs are established, the money will flow for the proposed $600 million regional medical system that is envisioned by the state, the University of Maryland Medical System and Prince George’s County.

That may prove to be the trickiest part.

Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller (D-Calvert) has said some of the cost of the hospital could be offset by revenues from slot machine gambling in Prince George’s, which he has been pushing as an antidote to revenue shortfalls. The state is experiencing a budget gap of about $1 billion; Prince George’s County’s gap is about $126 million.


Prince George's County Executive Rushern Baker (Jeffrey MacMillan/For The Washington Post)

“The hospital and expansion of slots is decoupled. If there are no slots this year, the state still needs a revenue stream for the hospital,” he said Thursday after he and several medical experts briefed a House appropriations subcommittee.

The state and county are already paying $15 million each, annually, to shore up ailing Dimensions Healthcare System, which operates the county-owned hospital in Cheverly and sites in Bowie and Laurel.

Baker, who is a close ally of Miller, said Miller has done a lot over the years to help Prince George’s with its budget needs. This year, with the economic downturn and the state’s budget gap, is especially tough, Baker said. “I know the president of the Senate is looking for revenue,” he said.

Under an agreement among the county, the state and the University of Maryland Medical System, which ultimately is to own and operate the hospital and health-care network, each is expected to pay a third of the anticipated $600 million price tag.

In his testimony Baker said the hospital could also be an engine for economic development in Prince George’s.

“The potential impact of the regional medical center in Prince George’s County is vast from both a health care and economic development perspective,” he said.

More than 60 percent of county residents leave the county to obtain health care. More than 20,000 hospital admissions of county residents are in hospitals in the District. Bringing those patients back to a hospital in Prince George’s could be a boost to the local economy, and eliminate operating losses at Dimensions, Baker said.

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