Filling in the details of how Prince George’s should revamp its publicly funded medical system

Maryland officials are preparing to unveil this week a detailed plan for a $600 million regional hospital to replace the ailing Prince George’s Hospital Center and establish a new health-care network throughout Prince George’s County.

The plans are part of a broad effort to improve health care in a county where an estimated 150,000 residents lack health insurance or have insufficient coverage and often rely on hospital emergency rooms for primary care.

Many county residents seek health care outside the county either because it’s convenient or because they cannot find what they are looking for inside the county.

In an announcement scheduled for midweek, Maryland health officials are expected to outline the medical needs of the region and discuss how a new medical center would be designed to serve those needs and how the state and county intend to pay for it.

The plans are part of a multiyear effort to bolster and ultimately replace Prince George’s Hospital Center, owned by the county but operated by Dimensions Healthcare System. The Cheverly hospital and the health-care company that operates it have been struggling financially for years.

The state and county have given Dimensions an annual $30 million operating subsidy for several years.

State and federal data show that residents of predominantly black Prince George’s suffer from high rates of asthma, diabetes, HIV, heart disease and low infant birth weight, problems that have been linked to racial disparities in the availability of health care.

It’s not clear whether a location for the new medical center will be specified in this week’s announcement, but County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D) said in a recent interview that he would favor building it at the site of the long-shuttered Landover Mall. The Washington area Coalition for Smarter Growth has been pushing for a site closer to a Metro station.

Baker said the new medical center will be an economic boon to the county and help create jobs and spinoff businesses.

“We are ready for prime time in terms of economic development,” he said.

The new medical center, which is expected to be a teaching hospital affiliated with the University of Maryland School of Medicine, is slated to open by 2017.

The new network, which ultimately will become part of the University of Maryland Medical System, is expected to attract paying patients from inside and outside the county.

Officials have said that for the system to become financially viable it would need to offer specialities that are not available elsewhere. That would also help it secure broad political support for public funding.

Many Prince George’s residents rely on hospitals in the District of Columbia and in Anne Arundel, Howard and Montgomery counties, county data show.

A 2009 RAND study found severe inequities in delivery of health care in Prince George’s and an acute shortage of physicians.

This week’s expected announcement comes a year after the county and state announced that the University of Maryland Medical System would revamp the county’s publicly funded hospital system.

Since then, Dimensions has undergone a leadership change. Neil J. Moore replaced former chief executive Ken Glover, who resigned this year after an internal investigation of his professional relationship with former county executive Jack B. Johnson (D). The investigation found that while Johnson was still in office, Glover had discussed giving him contracts after he stepped down as county executive, in return for his having helped Glover get the job at Dimensions. Johnson is serving a seven-year prison term on federal corruption charges.

On Thursday, Dan O’Brien, who spent nearly two years as general counsel for Dimensions, announced that he was resigning, effective immediately. A Glover appointee, O’Brien could not be reached for comment. A colleague said O’Brien and Moore had clashed over the direction of the new management.

spivackm@washpost.com

 
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