New hospital leadership sought

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Prince George”s County Executive Jack B. Johnson says the county”s largest health provider needs to rid itself of mismanagement before it gets any more public subsidies.

“The money is there; we can wire it to them,” said Mr. Johnson, concerning the recent financial crisis at Dimensions Healthcare Systems. Dimensions is the parent company of Prince George”s Hospital Center and Laurel Regional Hospital.

In an interview, Mr. Johnson rejected the company”s claim that county officials approved Dimensions” practice of giving six-figure severance deals to former executives while it lobbies for more public funding to avoid closing.

“We had no knowledge of that,” Mr. Johnson said. “We learned about these things after the fact.”

The Washington Times reported last week that Dimensions had paid out more than $800,000 in severance deals for former executives during the past three years. The company also paid out nearly $1 million in legal fees to the law firm where its former staff attorney works.

Mr. Johnson, a Democrat, said he wants new leadership on the board of directors for Dimensions. He said he sought input on possible candidates from the Collective Banking Group, a nonprofit group that represents local churches.

A state and county oversight panel in 2005 recommended that the county and Dimensions cut ties, citing the company’s “history of poor leadership and management.”

In addition to the severance deals, Mr. Johnson expressed concern about increasing closure rates of the Prince George’s Hospital Center emergency department and mounting financial losses at Laurel Regional Hospital.

The county executive said he is trying to find new operators to take over the health system. The county had been in talks with Doctors Community Hospital in Lanham, but a takeover deal was rejected by John Colmers, secretary of Maryland’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

Dimensions runs the hospitals under a long-term lease deal with the county. The health system has received more than $50 million in state and county funding in recent years to stay afloat.

The company has said it needs another $14 million from the county through next year, but its board of directors rejected a condition attached to the money by Mr. Johnson. He wants the board to be restructured and demanded the ouster of board Chairman Calvin Brown.

Dimensions unsuccessfully sued the county in connection with the dispute last month and has defended its performance amid increasing scrutiny of its financial situation. Chief Executive G.T. Dunlop Ecker last month told reporters that the company was meeting and exceeding expectations, despite financial constraints.

A company spokeswoman last week said Dimensions paid severance packages to former executives, including $400,000 in pay and benefits to former Chief Executive Patrick Mutch, because the deals were mandated in employment contracts.

Spokeswoman Suzanne Almalel also said Dimensions has followed the recommendations of consultants hired to return the system to profitability.

But Mr. Johnson said the company is relying increasingly on subsidies from county taxpayers to operate.

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