Correction to This Article
The article incorrectly called Montgomery General the oldest hospital in Montgomery County. Washington Adventist Hospital opened first.

Montgomery General Hospital, MedStar Health to Merge

By Susan Levine
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 5, 2007

Montgomery General Hospital announced yesterday that it would become part of the far larger MedStar Health, a move that adds to the considerable changes taking place on Montgomery County's hospital landscape.

The 149-bed facility, which has been independent since its founding in Olney nearly nine decades ago, decided against a merger with Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring. Holy Cross and MedStar were the two organizations Montgomery General chose in June for extensive negotiations over its future.

"It was a difficult decision for our board," said hospital chief executive Peter W. Monge, who called both offers "very, very good and very, very professional." MedStar of Columbia won out because of its local ownership and its agreement that Montgomery General's board would remain in place, Monge said.

A sale price would be disclosed after the deal is completed, before the end of the year, officials said. Until then, MedStar would have little comment. A spokeswoman only said, "MedStar is very proud to have been selected."

Montgomery General was the county's first hospital, but it was long ago eclipsed in size and the most advanced medical programs by the four other local institutions. After several recent years of small operating losses, concern over the hospital's ability to keep up prompted its board to entertain suitors.

That was a turnabout from prior positions. "One of the things [the board's directors] told me when they hired me was they wanted to keep the hospital independent," Monge said yesterday. But now, "going it alone is not the way to go."

MedStar would lend much financial strength. The $2.9 billion nonprofit organization runs three hospitals in the District, including Washington Hospital Center and Georgetown University Hospital, and four in Baltimore. The hospitals have a total of 2,700 beds and more than 145,000 inpatient admissions annually.

"We really could accelerate the growth here with help from a partner," Monge said.

Each of Montgomery's hospitals has major change proposed or underway, whether multimillion-dollar capital expansions or, in the case of Washington Adventist Hospital, a departure from its Takoma Park home for a new campus in the White Oak area of Silver Spring. Washington Adventist's plans are opposed by Holy Cross, which worries that it then will have to shoulder an even greater share of care for uninsured and low-income patients in the down-county area.

The move to the White Oak area must be approved by the Maryland Health Care Commission, which also must approve Montgomery General's purchase by MedStar.

The County Council is seeking outside help in analyzing the impact of it all, said council member George Leventhal (D-At Large), who chairs the Health and Human Services Committee.

"The county should weigh in," he said. "We have to assess, what does this mean? Is it in the interest of public health?"

© 2007 The Washington Post Company