- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 25, 2007

Questions over the management of Laurel Regional Hospital have surfaced as a key point of debate as the nonprofit Dimensions Healthcare System fights to stay in business.

The nonprofit’s board of directors could discuss as early as today plans to close or file for bankruptcy amid what it calls a severe cash shortage.

The board is expected to meet privately this morning to discuss whether it can get a $5 million bailout from Prince George’s County. Dimensions also runs Prince George’s Hospital Center and the Bowie Health Campus.

Meanwhile, county officials are expected to push for management changes, citing in part questions about more than $7 million in losses last year at Laurel Regional. Last week, County Executive Jack B. Johnson told lawmakers in Annapolis that the hospital is inefficient.

Yesterday, Dimensions officials defended their management of Laurel Regional, which largely has been overshadowed by the larger Prince George’s Hospital Center.

“We don’t understand why representatives from the county executive and County Council have targeted Laurel,” said G.T. Dunlop Ecker, Dimensions’ president and chief executive officer. Citing massive development in Laurel, he said the hospital “is on the verge of becoming a real cash cow.”

Laurel Regional has 146 beds and 670 employees.

Douglas Shepherd, chief executive officer of Laurel Regional, said the hospital is trying to improve its bottom line by recruiting more surgeons. The hospital has had difficulty doing so because much of its equipment, though safe, is outdated, Dimensions officials said.

Mr. Shepherd said he’s not sure why profits weren’t used to upgrade the hospital. He said profits were “sucked back into the system” and weren’t returned to Laurel Regional.

In a Nov. 29 letter to the county, accountant Shailender K. Gupta, who is a financial adviser for the Prince George’s County executive’s office, called Laurel Regional one of the most inefficient hospitals in Maryland, compared with similar facilities.

Mr. Gupta also said the hospital would have closed were it not for the financial support Dimensions has received from the state and county in recent years. The company has received more than $50 million in special grant money in the past four years.

Mr. Shepherd, a former executive at Greater Southeast Community Hospital in the District, said Laurel Regional had a tough 2006 financially because of an accounting restatement recommended by outside consultants. The change concerned how the health system calculates bad debt on its balance sheet.

Mr. Shepherd said that Laurel Regional is expected to fare better this year, but that it’s too soon to predict a profit or loss. He said the hospital is recruiting physicians, a move that should help boost patient volume and improve revenues.

“Clearly we’ll do much better,” he said.

Mr. Ecker said the health system needs a stable long-term funding source from the state to survive. “The fix is going to have to come from Annapolis,” he said.

Helenmarie Waters, vice president of patient care for Laurel Regional, said the staff is highly qualified and patient satisfaction scores are high. However, she said the hospital needs to make upgrades in some of its capital, including remodeling its maternity unit.

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