The Prince George's County Council yesterday approved a plan to reorganize the board that runs the county's three public hospitals.
The council also chose council administrator Samuel Wynkoop as its representative on the new 11-member body.
The council actions clear the way for hospital board Chairman Winfield M. Kelly Jr. to accept the resignations of 22 board members who voted in an executive session Monday night to vacate their positions.
County Executive Parris Glendening has designated chief administrator John Wesley White as his representative and the third member of the reconstituted board.
Kelly, who will remain on the board, said that the other eight board members will be appointed within two weeks. He has the power to appoint four, the Prince George's Medical Society may appoint one, and the three others will come from the boards of each of the three affected institutions.
The council's unanimous votes for both an amended lease agreement with Community Hospital and Health Care Systems and for Wynkoop came after lengthy debate in open session and a short deliberative session that was closed to the public.
"In the old lease we had no council participation," said council member Frank Casula. "We have it now."
Kelly and Glendening hailed the new lease agreement as the first step toward resolving the fiscal management and conflict-of-interest problems that have been plaguing CHHCS for several months.
"These proposed changes will fundamentally change the way that CHHCS does business," Glendening said in a prepared statement. "They are designed to restore faith in the county's principal health care system."
CHHCS has operated the Prince George's General and Greater Laurel-Beltsville hospitals and the Bowie Health Center since 1983.
Kelly credited council member Hilda Pemberton with appealing to government and hospital officials to sit down and work out a solution to the oversight problems.
"Health care is our business," said Pemberton, who had expressed special concern about the future of the care of indigents at the hospitals. "It is our responsibility."
One of the provisions written into the new lease agreement would allow the county government to reimburse the hospital system for any losses it incurs as a result of maintaining a policy of providing health care for all county residents, regardless of their ability to pay.
Laurel Mayor Robert DiPietro, who headed up a group in his area called Citizens United for Quality Health Care, called the new agreement "a good compromise."
"The only negative about the whole thing is, who are the players?" he said.
Elected officials such as DiPietro and state Del. Joan Pitkin (D-Prince George's) have been supporting a council bill that would abolish the hospital board and return the system to direct county government control.
Casula denied allegations that Laurel area activists have been working to get the Laurel-Beltsville facility removed from the corporation. And Kelly said that he believes that "the majority of people, including the Laurel people, want it to work."
Yesterday, DiPietro said he hoped the bill, which is scheduled for a public hearing on Tuesday, would "hang around like an ax" in case the lease agreement does not accomplish what his group hopes it will.
Kelly said, however, that he hoped the council would take some action at next week's hearing to reject the bill outright, a move its sponsor Anthony Cicoria said is unlikely.
Wynkoop, 41, an Upper Marlboro resident, said he hopes as a member of the board to discuss matters of quality health care and serve as an information link between the council and the board.
White, 44, of University Park, said he is concerned about making the process of running the hospitals an open one, because "people have lost confidence in the system."