Rendering of the University of Maryland Capital Region Medical Center in Largo, Maryland. (University of Maryland Medical Center)

Political leaders from across the state and Prince George's County packed a giant tent on the grounds of what was once the Capital Boulevard shopping center on Thursday to break ground on a long-awaited regional medical center that officials say will dramatically improve health care in the county.

The $543 million project waited years for approval from the state's health-care commission, in part because of concerns the hospital was too large, too expensive and unsustainable in a rapidly changing health-care market. The state and county are contributing more than $400 million to construct the 205-bed facility in Largo, which was cleared for construction 13 months ago.

The medical center is part of a broader vision articulated by county, state and University of Maryland Medical Services officials to attract patients and top physicians who for years have chosen better-performing hospitals in neighboring jurisdictions. It is supposed to become a high-quality, central medical hub for southern Maryland that will provide staffing and expertise for a system of clinics throughout the region.

Prince George’s County has some of the highest rates of chronic disease in the metropolitan area, and expanding health-care access has been a top priority of local government leaders.

“I think about those who say ‘please give us the best service.’ This is for them,” said Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D), who attended the groundbreaking along with Gov. Larry Hogan (R) and members of Maryland’s congressional delegation.

County political leaders pushed for a deal between Dimensions, the private nonprofit that operated the county government's medical facilities, and UMMS to replace the Prince George's Hospital Center in Cheverly. Legislators fought for state subsidies to keep the project alive while it made its way through the regulatory process.

Hogan, who at times sparred with Democrats over funding for the hospital, said he has been a supporter of the project since Day One despite those “spirited negotiations.”

“For decades, the citizens of Prince George’s County have not had the level of high-quality patient care that they deserve,” said Hogan, who grew up in the county and lived most of his life there. “Pushing to get this hospital built has been a mission that is very personal to me.”

While they awaited approvals, University of Maryland physicians worked to improve care at the Cheverly facility, rebuilding the cardiac surgery unit and earning high marks for quality. UMMS plans to transfer the program to the regional medical center after it opens in March 2021.

The 26-acre teaching hospital is also slated to include a cancer center, a self-contained pediatric hospital, a stroke center and programs in neuroscience, women’s health and orthopedic medicine.

“We will bring all the resources of our large health system, as well as our world-renowned medical school to the county,” said UMMS President and CEO Robert A. Chrencik, who runs a network of 14 hospitals.

The hospital's construction is expected to generate thousands of short and long-term jobs and trigger development in the Largo area, where Baker plans to relocate government offices.

In the months leading to the groundbreaking, a handful of hotels have sprung up, apartment buildings were constructed and leasing increased in nearby office buildings.