Prince George's County officials, upset about recent disclosures of mismanagement at the nonprofit corporation that operates three county health facilities, have been scrambling during the past week to force out some of the corporation leaders.
"These folks who run the corporation's board of trustees need to operate as though they are Mother Teresa -- with no appearance of conflict of interest," said County Council Chairman William Amonett. He said dramatic changes in policy as well as the resignations of some of the people on the 28-member board are essential to set a more respectable tone.
The corporate board should "put its own house in order or I'll have to take steps to dissolve the whole corporation," County Executive Parris Glendening said in an interview last week.
For the past seven months, the embattled board of Community Hospital and Health Care Systems Inc. has been plagued by internal battles and public skirmishes in which members have been accused of having conflicts of interest. In addition, internal audits as well as studies by outside groups have concluded that the board has failed to manage the facilities efficiently. The corporation operates Prince George's General and Greater Laurel-Beltville hospitals and the Bowie Health Center.
One plan being discussed by county officials and board members is to replace hospital board chairman Frank Aluisi with former county executive Winfield M. Kelly Jr., who has a longstanding interest in health care. Kelly reportedly has been approached about the plan by board members and county officials. He could not be reached yesterday, but last week he told a reporter that he was considering taking the post.
Frustration with the system has mounted, and two weeks ago the County Council, which created the quasi-private corporation in 1983 to run the hospitals more effectively than under government control, began discussing a bill that would scrap the lease between the county and the private corporation.
Council member Frank Casula said he supported the bill because he wanted to return control of the facilities to the county. But other council members insist that officials have no desire to run the hospitals again and that the bill was designed to exert pressure on the board.
But the threat of county management has upset some hospital employes. Carl Keller, a psychiatrist and president of the medical staff at Prince George's General, said that returning the facilities to the county might clear the way for selling them. "I believe there is a group of physicians who want to separate Laurel Hospital from the system and they are supported by the politicians who are promoting the bill."
Representatives for nurses and doctors within the system said the medical staff has no desire to work again under county management.
Glendening and others, including council member JoAnn Bell, have questioned why the bill was proposed at a time when the board appeared finally to be addressing its managemant problems. Earlier this month, the board hired a subsidiary of Hospital Corp. of America to oversee day-to-day operations of the three facilities.
Also fueling the debate last week was the disclosure that corporation chairman Aluisi was under investigation by the board's ethics committee for traveling with a female companion to a Mexican medical school last December. The airfare was paid by a doctor-supported fund, which Aluisi said he had intended to reimburse.
The hospital board meets Monday and is expected to ask for Aluisi's resignation, county officials said. "I think there is a clear consensus that Aluisi's ouster has got to happen," said County Attorney Thomas Smith.
While no one will mention names, other county officials said they expect more board members to resign in the next few weeks; but it is unclear whether the resignations would reach as high as corporation President Robert J. Brady Jr., the board's highest ranking member.
Ironically, during the many political discussions about the hospital corporation, little has been said about the quality of care. Carol Bragg, president of the local nurses union, said that during the corporation's tenure, conditions within the hospital have improved. She said supplies are readily available and there is an improved staffing ratio of nurses to patients because nursing vacancies have been filled.