The Prince George's County Council voted Tuesday to accept virtually all of County Executive Lawrence Hogan's nominations to two of the county's three hospital boards, partially ending a three-year impasse over Hogan's refusal to fill the slots.
However, the council rejected all the nominations for the board of the Bowie Health Center because Hogan sent names for only six of the 13 positions. "It's not even a quorum," said council member Ann Lombardi, who has led the council in health care issues. "Six out of 13 is just inferior, especially when we know that there have been a number of names that have been offered to the executive."
For three years Hogan has refused to fill the positions on the three boards and the Hospital Commission, which oversee the operations of the three county-run hospitals. Comprised of representatives of consumers, and health and financial experts, the boards are designed to make policy for the hospitals, though their decisions, particularly concerning budgetary matters, are subject to approval by the county government.
Hogan declined to fill vacancies on the boards while he negotiated an agreement to lease the hospitals to the private, profit-making Hospital Corporation of America. Hogan called the leasing effort the "top priority" of his administration, and charged that the hospitals were destined for financial ruin unless his leasing plan was adopted.
Last fall the council rejected his proposed lease, citing citizen concern that the needs of the indigent and other vulnerable groups would not be protected.
At that point the council asked Hogan to fill the vacancies on the three boards: Prince George's General Hospital, the Greater Laurel-Beltsville Hospital and the Bowie Health Center, as well as the supervisory Hospital Commission. Meanwhile, Lombardi and a number of other health care activists formed a council-sponsored committee to propose an alternative to the lease. Last week the committee formally proposed a plan to create a nonprofit corporation that would then lease the hospitals.
The council accepted the names Hogan submitted despite the criticism of a vocal citizen's group, the Hospital Emergency Action League (HEAL), whose members had worked actively to defeat the Hogan lease and to prepare the alternative proposal.
"HEAL people said, 'Why are you putting these people's names up when you're going to be creating another form of governance?' " said Lombardi. "But the council felt that we didn't gain any coin by turning the names down. We thought we'd probably just irritate the executive." Lombardi added that Hogan so far has refused to meet with the committee to discuss its alternative proposal.
On Tuesday council members rejected the Bowie names "without prejudice," said Lombardi, meaning Hogan could reintroduce them.
The council also delayed action on two nominations to the P.G. General Hospital Board, the Rev. Russell L. West and Mary H. Waldron, because they could not appear at their public hearings.
The council also rejected the nomination of James E. House, a Cheverly engineer, to the P.G. General board, because he would have replaced a present member whom the council wished to keep on the board. Lombardi said House was also rejected "without prejudice" and expressed her hope that the executive would nominate him to another slot.
House accepted her explanation but said he was upset at his rejection. "I'm just a citizen who wants to work hard," he said, "Am I being caught in a political crossfire or something? Somebody should have done their homework, that's all."
Lombardi said that she did not want to replace the Rev. John Acie Burgess, an experienced health activist who also holds a position on the Magruder trust, a nonprofit group that dispenses grants to help health institutions buy equipment and meet other health needs.
Lombardi also attempted unsuccessfully to persuade the council to reject the nomination of Dr. Benjamin Pecson for the chairmanship of the P.G. General board, because, she said, the county laws prohibit health care professionals from chairing those citizen boards.