Plans to convert most of Laurel Regional Hospital to an outpatient facility are stirring concern among residents and community leaders who say they are worried about losing jobs and medical services in an area that is far from other hospitals.
Dimensions Healthcare System, which runs the Laurel facility and hopes to build a larger regional hospital 16 miles away in Largo, announced last week that it would eliminate 106 inpatient beds and shutter many of the hospital’s non-emergency inpatient services by 2018, an effort to stem years of multimillion-dollar losses.
The transition would make Laurel — a city of 25,000 in northern Prince George’s County, midway between Washington and Baltimore — part of a national trend, in which health-care providers increasingly are focusing on preventive care through outpatient facilities rather than more expensive inpatient services.
It would continue to offer outpatient surgeries and diagnostic and emergency services in a new, $24 million facility.
“Across the nation, admissions are declining and the interest now is in outpatient and ambulatory care,” said Christopher J. King, an assistant professor at Georgetown University Medical Center and a lecturer at the University of Maryland’s School of Public Health. “That’s the new delivery of care.”
Erika Murray, Dimensions’s vice president of marketing and public relations, said declining patient admissions, small size and rapid change in health-care reimbursement led to the decision to replace the hospital.
The group’s board of directors — which includes several elected officials — voted for the transition after hearing a report from the consulting firm Kaufman Hall, which evaluated options for cutting costs.
“Our aim is to keep people out of the hospital,” Murray said. “This is a transition to keep the community healthy and well so they don’t get sick enough to end up in the hospital in the first place.”
But Laurel Mayor Craig A. Moe characterized the decision as the latest in a series of failures by Dimensions leadership, adding that Dimensions should have consulted him and other community leaders before voting for the outpatient care facility.
“Laurel needs a full-service hospital,” Moe said. “There are jobs at stake, and people’s health-care could be jeopardized.”
Murray said the hospital will consult with the state’s Health Services Cost Review Commission to determine the regulatory requirements for the facility.
Dimensions, a nonprofit health-care provider, plans to build a $650 million, 231-bed hospital and medical campus at Largo Town Center to replace its frequently subsidized, 100-bed Prince George’s Hospital Center in Cheverly.
The new medical center, which would open in 2019 and is awaiting state approval, would provide the slate of services that are being cut from the Laurel facility.
Laurel Regional Hospital has struggled to curb its operating losses for the better part of a decade, in part because of overall struggles with Dimensions management. At one point, the facility ran up a $54 million deficit.
Dimensions teamed up with the University of Maryland Medical System and the University System of Maryland in 2011 to launch the proposed regional hospital and to improve its health-care services in the meantime at Prince George’s Hospital, the Laurel facility and elsewhere.
In April, the Laurel hospital received a one-star rating from Medicare — the lowest possible — though the evaluations compared hospitals against each other and noted that “a 1-star rating does not mean that you will receive poor care from a hospital.”
Dimensions did not say how many of the more than 600 jobs at Laurel Regional might be on the chopping block. But the company said in a news release that it hopes to transfer some workers to other facilities, including the Prince George’s Hospital Center. Workers at the Laurel facility said they fear the worst.
“We’re going to fight to keep it open,” said Rae Dunnaville, a regional spokeswoman for the nurses and service workers union SEIU 1199. “We don’t believe this [closure] was necessarily inevitable.”
Labor and delivery nurse Andrea Nagel, 41, said she has begun looking for jobs, either near her home in Bowie or farther afield in Anne Arundel or Howard counties.
“We’re not going to be able to serve the community regarding labor and delivery, and maternal child care,” Nagel said.