- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 1, 2007

The chairman of the Prince George’s County Council says the nonprofit company in charge of the county’s largest health system created “public hysteria” by prematurely announcing plans to close or file for bankruptcy last month.

Dimensions Healthcare Systems, which runs Prince George’s Hospital Center and Laurel Regional Hospital, last month said it likely would close because of financial problems, but later called off plans after getting a tentative bailout offer from the county.

“I think a great deal of the public hysteria about closing was created by Dimensions management, and I don’t think it was productive as far as their ongoing business is concerned,” said council Chairwoman Camille Exum, a Democrat and member of the Dimensions board of directors.

Dimensions officials could not be reached for comment yesterday, and a spokesman for Prince George’s County Executive Jack B. Johnson declined to comment.

County officials haven’t said how much the bailout to keep Dimensions running for another 15 more months will cost, but sources say the county is projecting about $30 million in subsidies.

Miss Exum said the projected bailout figures have “steadily increased” after Dimensions officials announced closure plans, a decision that she said probably hurt patient revenues.

The possible closure prompted fierce criticism of the council’s decision to oppose a state-backed bailout worth more than $300 million in state and county funding.

The deal collapsed on April 9, the final day of the legislative session. G.T. Dunlop Ecker, Dimensions chief executive, the next day called a press conference saying he would recommend closure, calling the council’s opposition a “profound breach of trust.”

Meanwhile, state leaders already had met privately and rejected a private takeover from Doctors Community Hospital in Lanham that included more than $300 million in public funding, but also $325 million in private money from Doctors Community.

Miss Exum had no comment on the state’s rejection of the Doctors Community offer, but said the council would “explore every option that’s available.”

Several officials questioned about the Doctors Community deal have expressed disappointment at the state’s rejection, but did not want to publicly criticize the decision because of fears that it could jeopardize the possibility of a state-backed deal to restructure the health system.

The total price of the private offer was nearly $700 million, including the $325 million from Doctors Community, $158 million from the state and $170 million from Prince George’s. The legislative bailout included no private money and nearly $330 million in public funds.

Miss Exum chafed at the criticism of the council in the wake of the collapse of the legislative bailout.

“As far as the council is concerned, we’re only interested in a public-policy debate, and it was unfortunate that some people made a public-policy discussion into a personal one,” she said.

Miss Exum said New York-based consultant Corbett Price, who was hired to review Dimensions’ finances earlier this year, will remain in place for the foreseeable future. She said county officials are still reviewing Dimensions’ finances before deciding how much the bailout deal will be worth.

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