American Medical International, the California hospital chain that is the leading contender to buy the George Washington University Medical Center in downtown Washington, also is attempting to acquire the financially troubled Doctors' Hospital in Lanham.
Bob Brady, president of the Prince George's community hospital system, which has been trying to buy Doctors' Hospital, said a community hospital representative received a call yesterday from Dr. Leon Levitsky, the owner of Doctors' Hospital, saying that he had accepted an offer from another party.
"We were told that he had made a decision and made a commitment," said Brady, "and barring unforseen circumstances it will go forward."
Levitsky's office said he was in California to attend the Super Bowl and could not be reached for comment.
Sources close to negotiations for Doctors' Hospital said the party that made the offer was AMI. Royce Diener, board chairman of that firm, issued a statement yesterday saying, "AMI is involved in conversations with the owners of Doctors' Hospital. Because these discussions have not yet resulted in a definitive agreement, AMI cannot at this time discuss the nature or terms of these talks."
The proposed sale is unusual since for-profit hospital chains generally avoid Maryland, one of four states with a commission that sets hospital rates. A 1982 decision by this rate commission that Doctors' Hospital needed to lower its rates to make up $24 million in "excessive" charges contributed to the hospital's money problems.
The rates at the 240-bed hospital had ranked among the highest in the state. The hospital filed for bankruptcy in October as a result of the order to refund overcharges.
Administrators of some area hospitals expressed displeasure about the negotiations between AMI and Doctors' Hospital, saying they feared that the suburban Maryland hospital would feed patients into George Washington University Medical Center if AMI acquires both facilities.
"I don't believe it's in the public's interest in Prince George's and in Maryland for one of the major national chains to take that hospital, particularly AMI," said Barry Passett, president of the Greater Southeast Foundation, which operates Greater Southeast Hospital and is also interested in buying Doctors' Hospital. "It should be a community, nonprofit corporate entity.
"If it moves to a chain that's chiefly interested in feeding to George Washington, their interest isn't in meeting the needs of Lanham," he said. "It's the needs of George Washington hospital ahead of everything else."
Officials of George Washington University Medical Center could not be reached for comment. On Thursday, the university's trustees voted to seek for-profit bidders to buy or lease the teaching hospital. The university has been working with representatives of AMI regularly for more than a year to discuss a sale or lease relationship, but the bidding process is open to all interested parties.
Brady, whose hospitals had been preparing a joint bid with the Daughters of Charity, which operates Providence Hospital in Washington and St. Agnes Hospital in Baltimore, said, "It's my feeling that the two hospitals are being acquired in tandem." He noted, "It will be an owner who is adverse to our interests in developing our community health care area," such as improving local hospitals' ability to perform heart surgery.
AMI chairman Diener said, "As for its relationship with other area hospitals and medical centers, Doctors' Hospital has its own distinct service area and service mission." He also said that AMI has been interested in the hospital for several years and that "we can unequivocably state that we were always interested in the facility on its own merits. We feel that an affiliation with AMI would actually strengthen Doctors' Hospital to the mutual benefit of patients, the community and AMI's shareholders."
Mick Taylor, an AMI spokesman, said the corporation owns 164 hospitals and health care facilities worldwide, 130 of which are in the United States.
Richard Wade, a spokesman for the Maryland Hospital Association, said the sale would represent "the first time a hospital has ever been sold in Maryland."
Before a sale is completed, approval must be granted by the Maryland Health Resources Planning Commission.