Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) announced Friday that he has agreed to provide $15 million in operating funds for fiscal 2017 for the Prince George’s County hospital system as part of a long-term partnership with the Baltimore-based University of Maryland Medical System.
After meeting with officials from the University of Maryland Medical System, Hogan told a hastily called news conference that he would include the state aid in a supplemental budget to Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) and House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel).
Under the plan, the state will contribute an additional $135 million for the construction of a new county regional medical center. That amount includes the $27.5 million already in Hogan’s 2017 capital budget proposal.
The agreement also provides $55 million total in operating funds over the next few years to help with the transition as the Prince George’s health-care complex becomes a regional system operated by the University of Maryland Medical System.
For years, many Prince George’s residents have sought medical treatment outside the county, traveling to the District and Anne Arundel and Montgomery counties to bypass the long-troubled county-owned system managed by Dimensions Healthcare.
“It’s been a long, sad story about the [Prince George’s] hospital system,” said Hogan, who was surrounded by officials from the University of Maryland Medical System. “And this we believe is a tremendous solution to decades of problems there.”
The state agreed in 2011 to provide $15 million annually as part of the transition of the Prince George’s health-care system to one that would include a new, more expansive teaching hospital. Prince George’s Hospital Center is now jointly run by Dimensions Healthcare and the University of Maryland Medical System.
The 2011 agreement, negotiated during the administration of former governor Martin O’Malley (D), expired after Hogan took office last year, creating uncertainty about the health-care system’s future.
Funding for the hospital has been a point of contention between Miller and Hogan since last year, when Hogan refused to include $15 million for the hospital system in the fiscal 2016 budget. Miller and Busch introduced a bill last week that would require Hogan to provide $55 million to the county hospital system over the next several years.
The announcement, which followed Miller and Busch’s bill to mandate the spending, came as a surprise to state and county lawmakers who have been calling on the governor to help the financially fragile system remain viable. University of Maryland Medical System officials also were not expecting to reach an agreement with the state Friday. A spokeswoman said they were “pleasantly surprised by the course of events.”
The University of Maryland Medical System “is pleased that Governor Hogan has reaffirmed the importance of a new regional medical center in Prince George’s County,” spokeswoman Karen Lancaster said in a statement. “Now, as the regulatory and planning processes continue, we remain committed to working closely with state and local officials, Dimensions Healthcare and others to make this vision a reality in the spirit and framework of the original MOU [memorandum of understanding]. We believe this can be a new day for health care in Prince George’s County.”
The governor’s announcement drew a mixed reaction.
Miller said that he was “very pleased” that Hogan decided to add funding next year but that he remained cautiously optimistic about the future of the health-care system.
“Now we need an MOU,” Miller said. “We’d like $15 million for this year and another $15 million for next year, so we’ll see what we can do with that, but we’re very grateful for what the governor has done.”
Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D), who has slammed the governor in recent days for reducing state funding to the county for health care and education, was less impressed with Hogan’s decision. Without a signed agreement, he said, the money is not guaranteed.
“If he wants to have progress for us, what he could do is release the $15 million” he withheld in fiscal 2016 for the system, Baker said. “Sign onto the bills that are both in the House and Senate, and that will guarantee the money for this hospital.”
Baker said Hogan needs to “do what the previous administration did.”
Doug Mayer, a spokesman for Hogan, said the governor has received assurances from the University of Maryland Medical System that the state’s commitment is “more than sufficient” to complete the project successfully.
Del. Jay Walker (D-Prince George’s) said he was pleased with the decision by Hogan and the General Assembly’ “to make health care in Prince George’s County a priority.”
He disagreed with Baker that the announcement was not a step in the right direction.
“Anytime you have a guy, a governor, who seemed to be reluctant and now is moving forward with it, I think that’s progress,” Walker said. “Obviously we have to take a look at the details, but it looks like it’s a good day for . . . providing world-class health care [in Prince George’s County] with the University of Maryland taking over.”