- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Prince George’s County officials took the first step yesterday toward terminating a deal with the financially troubled company that runs Prince George’s Hospital Center and Laurel Regional Hospital.

Officials posted a formal request seeking “qualified academic medical centers and not-for-profit health-care systems” to take over the facilities run by Dimensions Healthcare System.

The nonprofit company, which has more than 2,000 employees, runs the hospitals and the Bowie Health Center through a lease deal with the county government.

The move seeking a new operator comes less than a year after an oversight panel appointed by Maryland and county officials found that Dimensions “has never operated the system effectively.”

County and Dimension officials could not be reached for comment.

The Washington Times obtained a copy of the request through the county’s Office of Central Services, which posted the document on its Web site.

Officials said in the request that they were soliciting offers from health system or academic centers to “acquire and run” the county’s hospital system and to provide “state of the art” care.

“In the event of acquisition by a new entity, it is anticipated that the current operating lease will be voided and the assets of Dimensions … would be transferred to the acquiring entity,” the request states.

The county has scheduled an “industry briefing” for prospective bidders on Feb. 6, when county and Dimensions officials are expected to answer questions.

Dimensions said recently that it could be forced to shut down within months, unless it receives $2.5 million a month — or $30 million a year — from state and county officials.

G.T. Dunlop Ecker, the company’s chief executive, said cash flow projections for 2006 show “multimillion-dollar monthly shortfalls.”

Mr. Ecker said the financial crisis was caused by a combination of factors, including health care reimbursement rates, uncompensated care and the closing of D.C. General Hospital in 2001.

Despite the circumstance, the company took “significant steps to reduce costs and improve efficiency,” said Mr. Ecker, appointed last year to help the company.

He cited $24 million in operational improvements. The restructuring included layoffs.

Still, critics say the company has contributed to its troubled financial situation.

Last year, the state and county oversight panel found that Dimensions ran a deficit of more than $54 million from 1999 to 2004, even as it hired high-paid consultants amid staffing shortages.

The panel was formed as a result of a $45 million state and county bailout of the health system.

Dimensions’ board of directors also faced criticism last year after the disclosure of the nonprofit company’s 2004 tax return.

The document showed the company paid Winfield M. Kelly Jr., a former chief executive, more than $500,000 for one month’s work and severance.

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