The Washington Post

Prince George’s opens public dialogue about health-care disparities and new medical center

Prince George’s County is turning to residents for feedback on the development of a $645 million regional medical center proposed for Largo.

The construction of the new hospital complex is viewed as key to remedying the county’s pressing health disparities. But as the county moves forward with the project, it wants to develop a strategic plan that will provide policymakers guidance to address health disparities, attract physicians to the county and make health care more accessible.

At a community meeting Saturday, residents said they want a medical center that will provide specialty care to people with disabilities, greater access for medical research and will fill the existing gap in health care in the county.

“There are not enough facilities in the county. There are not enough doctors for the general population and even fewer for those with special needs,” said Grace Williams, 56, a Bowie resident with autistic twin daughters. “I have to drive to Baltimore or the District to get the care I need.”

The regional hospital campus, planned at a 26-acre site adjacent to the Largo Town Center Metro Station, is viewed as a significant step toward closing the gap in services in the county and providing high-quality health care to a population that suffers disproportionately from obesity, diabetes and heart disease.

The medical campus, including its new, 259-bed hospital, also is a major economic development project for Prince George’s and could help to revitalize the Boulevard at the Capital Centre, which has struggled with store closings since the recession. County leaders say the complex, slated to open in 2017, will turn Largo Town Center into a vibrant, mixed-use community.

The hospital will be run by the University of Maryland Medical System, and will include a trauma center. It will replace the Prince George’s Hospital Center in Cheverly, which has struggled financially over the years.

“It is not just a hospital,” said County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D). He envisioned a “regional care facility that will connect how we deliver quality health care throughout Prince George’s County.”

Officials say they want to hear from residents about how the county can help to reduce the incidence of chronic ailments — diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, asthma and cancer, which Prince George’s residents experience at higher rates than are seen in neighboring counties. About 71 percent of the Prince George’s population is overweight or obese.

The county also has far fewer primary care providers for the population compared with surrounding jurisdictions, a 2012 study by the University of Maryland School of Public Health found.

“The question is: How can we begin to improve our health?” said Vanessa Akins, chief of strategy and implementation with the county’s planning department. The county sees the medical center playing a crucial role in addressing those statistics, Akins said.

The county will hold several community meetings in coming weeks to aid in developing its strategic plan. The study is to be completed in December.

“We are making sure our residents don’t need to go outside of the county to get health care,” County Council Chair Mel Franklin (D-Upper Marlboro) said. “ We want you to get world-class health care in the county.”

Ray Moldenhauer, a principal with the architectural consultancy HOK, introduced residents Saturday to a preliminary design of the project, which calls for an architectural structure that can be recognized from a distance, with green spaces along the main street and open landscaping intended to help in creating the feel of a town center.

A state commission is reviewing the application for a certificate of need submitted in October. The process could take nine to 18 months, county officials say. The commission’s approval is necessary to move the project forward.

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Luz Lazo writes about transportation and development. She has recently written about the challenges of bus commuting, Metro’s dark stations, and the impact of sequestration on air travel.



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