State lawmakers from Prince George’s County are asking their constituents to lobby against state approval of a heart surgery unit at Anne Arundel Medical Center, a project they say would impair the fledging cardiac program in the Prince George’s hospital system.
Members of the county delegation blasted emails on Monday urging citizens to contact the Maryland Health Care Commission, which regulates health-care facilities, and complain about what they called the board’s “unfair and discriminatory” treatment of the Prince George’s hospital system in comparison with Anne Arundel’s.
The health-care commission, which was scheduled to vote on the Anne Arundel application on Thursday, said late Monday that it would delay the vote indefinitely and allow institutions that would be affected by the proposed cardiac center to submit additional comments until Feb. 1.
Commissioner Craig P. Tanio, who recommended approval of the project on Dec. 30, will review that additional input and make a revised recommendation, a statement posted on the commission’s website said.
Anne Arundel Medical Center says its program would not negatively affect the one in Prince George’s. In a statement, the hospital said that Tanio’s report “rightly concluded that AAMC’s proposed cardiac surgery program can coexist with a sustainable program at PGHC.”
“When health care is politicized, patients and families lose,” the hospital’s statement said.
Lawmakers from Prince George’s, who have championed efforts to build a regional teaching hospital in the county that is supposed to significantly improve the quality of medical care there, said the facility will lose much-needed patients and medical staff if a similar cardiac unit is launched just over 20 miles away in Anne Arundel.
“This decision is inconsistent with all that’s been done to ensure a vibrant, healthy Prince George’s Regional Medical Center,” said Del. Geraldine Valentino-Smith (D), vice-chair for the Prince George’s delegation.
Del. Darryl Barnes (D-Prince George’s) said the hospital commission “is allowing Anne Arundel to pull patients from Prince George’s Regional Medical Center, and it does us a disservice.”
Officials from the hospital commission did not return requests for comment.
The University of Maryland Medical System has been working with Dimensions Healthcare System, the nonprofit group that operates Prince George’s hospitals, to rebuild the hospital system’s cardiac program.
Under the leadership of heart surgeon Jamie Brown, the program is earning high ratings and has grown to serve more than 100 patients a year. In the new facility, plans call for the cardiac surgery center to serve about 200 patients a year, a volume that hospital officials say is necessary for the center to be financially viable.
“We are at the early stages of trying to develop a state-of-art service line that is still not strong enough,” Brown said in an interview. If the state approves Anne Arundel’s request to launch a cardiac surgery program, he said, it will “strengthen an already strong place and hurt our efforts here in its infancy.”
Dimensions senior vice president and general counsel Carl Jean-Baptiste said reviewers did not apply the same stringent standards for financial feasibility to Anne Arundel as they did to Prince George’s when that system was seeking state approval.
For example, he pointed out that Commissioner Robert E. Moffit pushed Prince George’s to reduce its bed count and square footage last year after other hospitals objected. He concluded that a smaller hospital would more realistically meet projections for volume and revenue.
“The regulations require AAMC to prove that there won’t be substantial negative impact on Prince George’s Hospital, and they failed to do that,” Jean-Baptiste said. “Having a lot of small cardiac programs is not in the best interests of the citizens of Maryland from a cost and quality perspective.”
Valentino-Smith also said state regulators failed to evaluate Anne Arundel Medical Center’s proposed cardiac program the way they assessed the Prince George’s application.
“The analysis was done in a much a less stringent manner with less documentation and less evidence in the case for financial feasibility,” Valentino-Smith said.
The debate over Anne Arundel’s application comes amid uncertainty about the state’s commitments to the long-awaited Prince George’s hospital project.
In the budget proposal he released last week, Gov. Larry Hogan (R) delayed promised funding for the Prince George’s hospital system and significantly cut the amount of operating subsidy the state will provide this year and next. Lawmakers have vowed to restore the funding.