Board Opts for Cash Controls, Not Closures

By Rosalind S. Helderman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The board of directors of the company that runs the Prince George's hospital system said yesterday that, for now, it will manage the system's draining cash carefully and try to find a solution for its financial problems rather than file for bankruptcy or seek to close hospitals.

"We're going to continue to operate as we have been, operating month to month, and we'll see what happens," Calvin Brown, chairman of the Dimensions Healthcare System, said at a board meeting yesterday.

Dimensions, which runs Prince George's Hospital Center in Cheverly as well as facilities in Laurel and Bowie, has been in a weeks-long standoff with County Executive Jack B. Johnson that has landed the two sides in court. Johnson asserts that the system is mismanaged and has asked four of the board's 11 members to resign. He has refused to release county money to the hospital network until his demand is met.

Board members believe that Johnson is trying to take control of the system -- Johnson denies that -- and have refused to meet his terms. Instead, they sued the county, arguing that Johnson's stance breaks a promise to keep the system financially solvent through June 2008.

Last week, a judge ordered the county to pay $2 million to the hospital system, pending a more in-depth examination into the matter Sept. 10. He dismissed Dimensions' broader request for $12 million to last until next summer.

John Erzen, a spokesman for Johnson, said yesterday that county officials are still weighing whether to appeal that temporary order.

Dimensions is also seeking permission from the Internal Revenue Service to skip payments on its pension plan until September 2008. If granted, company spokeswoman Suzanne Almalel said last week, the $2 million payment from the county could keep the hospital system afloat until the start of the legislative session in January. During the past session, lawmakers were unsuccessfully in passing a financing plan to bail out the system.

Almalel's prediction -- which suggested that Dimensions' situation could be less dire than feared -- prompted Johnson's chief of staff, Michael Herman, to question the company's statements.

"I never really know how much money the company has," said Herman, a member of the board.

Dimensions officials defended the projections as accurate updates, given the fluid situation.

President and Chief Executive G.T. Dunlop Ecker invited Herman to review the company's books and question its managers at any time.

Brown also told the board that he had met Friday with three county ministers interested in trying to mediate the dispute with the county. He said the group had also met with Johnson.

In addition to the Cheverly flagship hospital, Dimensions runs Laurel Regional Hospital, the Bowie Health Campus and two nursing homes: Gladys Spellman Specialty Hospital and Nursing Center and Larkin Chase Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. Altogether, about 180,000 patients are treated at the facilities each year.

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