Prince George’s County residents fuming over a plan to convert Laurel Regional Hospital into an out-patient facility are seeking help from the federal and state governments to try to stop it.
Dimensions Healthcare, the private nonprofit organization that manages county health-care facilities, announced this summer they would shutter Laurel’s expensive inpatient services — such as the maternity ward — and transition to an ambulatory care facility. The move will save millions of dollars that the hospital is currently losing in declining admissions and use, according to Dimensions spokeswoman Erika Murray.
It will also result in the loss of more than 100 jobs. Murray said they expect about 40 percent of those to be reabsorbed and placed elsewhere in their health-care delivery system. She added that final number could change as Dimensions solidifies its plans.
That didn’t stop the local union representing many of those workers to file a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board. They allege Dimensions has not provided employees with enough information about the closures and losses of “bargaining unit” positions.
The lack of transparency is what community members say infuriates them the most. Local elected leaders said they received no warning and were puzzled that a health-care organization that receives taxpayer money is not subject to more stringent public disclosure requirements. (Three politicians — Dels. Tawanna P. Gaines and Barbara A. Frush, and County Council member Andrea C. Harrison, all Prince George’s Democrats — sit on Dimensions’s Board of Directors.)
In response, Prince George’s County Democrats Sen. Jim Rosapepe and Del. Joseline Pena-Melnyk, both of whom represent Laurel, requested an emergency bill that would prohibit any county hospital receiving public funds from closing without prior approval from the county Board of Health.
It would also require the organization to provide 90 days notice of a major service change and hold a public hearing in the community where the closure or partial closure would take place. The last provision in the bill would require an entity like Dimensions to consider public testimony before making a decision.
“This was done under the cover of night, like thieves,” said Pena-Melnyk told residents during a community meeting on the issue this week in Laurel. She encouraged residents to show up at a Nov. 16 hearing for the bill. The delegate is also running for Congress.
“This emergency bill is about transparency, and it’s needed because the hospital system shouldn’t be allowed to operate under cloak and dagger,” she said in a statement.