Officials were confident about their plans Thursday, but it was unclear how the new hospital would be paid for or who would run it. The University of Maryland Medical System estimates that building the hospital and integrating it into the network would cost $600 million.
For years, many Prince George’s residents have gone elsewhere for medical care and hospitalization — often the District and Anne Arundel and Montgomery counties — to avoid the troubled, county-owned system now managed by Dimensions Healthcare. Also, many doctors concerned about the system’s viability have been reluctant to set up shop in the county — leading to a shortage of doctors.
There are about 80,000 uninsured residents in the county, which has a population of about 863,000. The rate is far higher than that of neighboring communities, according to a Rand report commissioned in 2008 by the County Council.
The deal is in the early stages, but Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) insisted that it will lead to the establishment of a sophisticated medical system in Prince George’s, where poor management and political infighting, as well as a shortage of paying patients, have led to a financially weakened Dimensions. The nonprofit medical group operates Prince George’s Hospital Center in Cheverly and facilities in Bowie and Laurel.
“This is an announcement to transform the hospital so that it is a place of choice for the residents of Prince George’s County to go there for their health-care needs,” O’Malley said at a news conference in Upper Marlboro. “It’s not just a promise; it’s actually a process that involves everybody laying their assets on the table and figuring out how we finance this and get to the next level.”
County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D), who campaigned on a commitment to fix the county’s health-care system, was similarly upbeat.
“This is a big deal for us,” he said. “Having an academic medical system like UMMS is exciting. It will add instant credibility to a system that has struggled to sustain itself.”
Efforts to improve medical care in the county have foundered in recent years, but a changed political climate in Prince George’s appears to have helped bring about Thursday’s agreement.
“The biggest difference now is that everybody is pulling together,” said former state senator Francis X. Kelly (D-Baltimore County), a member of the state medical system’s board. Even in a tough economy, Kelly said, “we think it is doable” because the political forces are aligned.
Since last year’s election, Baker and the County Council, led by Chairman Ingrid Turner (D-Bowie), have been considering ways to improve health care and have been working in tandem on the hospital deal.