Johnson: Physicians Could Run System

By Rosalind S. Helderman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 13, 2007

After a closed-door meeting with more than 50 physicians from Laurel Regional Hospital, Prince George's County Executive Jack B. Johnson (D) said he increasingly believes the county's troubled hospital system should be "doctors-run."

He provided few specifics about the idea but said community trust in the hospitals might be restored if Dimensions Healthcare System, the nonprofit company that has run the hospital system for more than 20 years, were replaced with a group of doctors.

Under such a scenario, the county could provide additional funding to help the doctors, he said, including shouldering some of the system's debts, estimated at more than $110 million.

"Maybe the answer is you have a doctors-run hospital, where you have doctors on the board," he said. "That's what I'm hoping to see."

In recent days, Johnson has also said he would be open to a for-profit company taking over the system. "I've come around to that point of view," he said.

The Dimensions facilities, which serve 180,000 patients each year, many of them poor and uninsured, have lost money for years and have survived only through repeated infusions of public cash. Their situation has become more precarious in recent months, after a deal between state and local leaders to bail out the system fell apart in April.

The meeting Monday at the Laurel hospital was called by Gita Shah, an internist and president of the Laurel medical staff who is also on the Dimensions board of directors. The Dimensions system also encompasses Prince George's Hospital Center in Cheverly, the Bowie Health Center and two nursing homes.

According to doctors who attended the meeting, Johnson said he wants the long-ailing hospital system to remain open. They said he spent much of the hour-long meeting criticizing Dimensions' management.

Last week, Johnson attended a briefing at a Largo hotel for a smaller group of physicians, including Shah and Hema Yadla, president of the medical staff at Prince George's Hospital Center. Yadla also sits on the Dimensions board.

Neither Johnson nor the doctors would confirm rumors that the Largo group has been exploring the possibility of buying the system, although Yadla said he would be interested in investing in the system to improve the condition of the hospital where he has practiced for 28 years.

"I'd love to buy it," he said, just before heading into the Largo meeting. "I didn't know that's what this meeting was about. I thought we were just meeting."

He has not returned several messages since then.

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