Hospital Executive Holds Out No Hope

Homayara Aziz, a medical student working at Prince George's Hospital Center, waves to flight paramedic Richard Hoffman, who has just delivered a patient by helicopter to the Cheverly hospital's busy trauma center.
Homayara Aziz, a medical student working at Prince George's Hospital Center, waves to flight paramedic Richard Hoffman, who has just delivered a patient by helicopter to the Cheverly hospital's busy trauma center. (By Carol Guzy -- The Washington Post)

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By Rosalind S. Helderman and Ovetta Wiggins
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Surrounded by scores of grim hospital employees, the chief executive of the ailing Prince George's County hospital network said yesterday that he saw no option but to close the system, as state and local officials traded blame for the failure of a compromise to save it.

After a deal collapsed in the waning moments of Maryland's 90-day legislative session Monday, state officials said the three hospitals and two nursing homes in the county-owned system could close as soon as June, and they pledged $20 million toward an "orderly" shutdown. Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) and many lawmakers blamed the County Council for foiling the deal.

County Executive Jack B. Johnson (D) and council members said they will continue working to keep the facilities open.

"I cannot throw in the towel," Johnson said at a news conference yesterday.

Across the Washington region, health-care providers began to sound alarms about a closure's effect on the region's hospital network. The Prince George's system treats 180,000 patients a year -- many of them uninsured. Where would they go? What would happen to the 3,100 trauma patients a year taken to Prince George's Hospital Center's busy emergency room in Cheverly? And what about the 3,500 babies born each year at the hospital?

"The closing is going to upset the equilibrium of the entire [trauma] system," said Ronna Borenstein, a spokeswoman for Suburban Hospital in Bethesda

G.T. Dunlop Ecker, president and chief executive of Dimensions Healthcare System, which manages the hospital system, said he will convene an emergency meeting of the board of directors Monday to consider bankruptcy court protection or closure. He said that the hospital system does not have enough money to survive bankruptcy proceedings and that he will advise shuttering instead.

"I agree that it's hard to believe we're going to shut down, but at the moment, I see no other alternative," he said.

State Secretary of Health John M. Colmers said that county health facilities could close as early as June and that his office has been working with the Maryland Hospital Association and the organization that coordinates the statewide emergency medical services on reallocating patients.

But Johnson said he was looking for the $30 million necessary to keep the hospital running for the next year. He pledged to keep working with the nine-member council to reach an agreement on the best way to proceed. He said talk of a closure was "not appropriate."

O'Malley (D) did not share Johnson's optimism. He said that he is "always willing to continue to talk" but that discussions at this point must take place between the council and the county executive.

O'Malley had hoped the General Assembly would pass a bill to establish a state-appointed authority to manage the hospital. The authority would have shepherded the hospital through a transition period, taking over from Dimensions and eventually selling the system to another company. The authority would have taken over the hospital's land and buildings, which are owned by the county and leased for $1 a year to Dimensions.


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