- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 16, 2003

A proposal by Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. to rescue the financially ailing Prince George’s Hospital Center would raise rates for a year and give authority over the facility to a control board, state and local officials said yesterday.

A one-year increase would generate about $10 million, the Republican governor said yesterday in an interview on WTOP radio. Prince George’s officials say an immediate infusion of about $15 million is needed to prevent closing the hospital that serves many of the county’s poor patients.

The remaining $5 million would be provided by the county, Mr. Ehrlich said. A five-member control board would take control of the Cheverly hospital, according to Nelson Sabatini, secretary of the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

A “turnaround” consulting company would also be hired to help the hospital restructure and oversee a possible merger with another nonprofit management firm, Mr. Sabatini said.

Prince George’s County Executive Jack Johnson discussed the issue with Mr. Ehrlich and Mr. Sabatini in a meeting Wednesday in Annapolis.

Mr. Ehrlich said a rate increase is contingent upon replacing the management of Dimensions Healthcare System, a nonprofit that runs the facility for the county. Dimensions’ practices were criticized by a county-commissioned audit of the hospital released earlier this month.

“There needs to be new management and there needs to be a fundamentally different governing philosophy with that hospital,” Mr. Ehrlich said on WTOP.

Mr. Johnson said he is reviewing the state proposal and will counter with his own plan by Monday at the earliest. He said he hopes to resolve the issue by the end of next week.

Mr. Johnson said he agrees with the governor that management needs to be changed but it is already under way as six executives at Dimensions and the hospital have recently stepped down.

He said he doesn’t want to give up control of the hospital to a state control board.

“Ultimately, the control of the hospital must be in the hands of the county,” Mr. Johnson said.

Dimensions spokeswoman Julie Hoffman said the nonprofit was pleased to see negotiations were ongoing, but wouldn’t comment on specific proposals.

The hospital serves about 70,000 uninsured patients each year, and about 45 percent of its patients either have no insurance or use federal Medicaid assistance.

Dimensions has lost $42 million over the past five years, and its cash reserves fell precipitously low over the summer. Last month, the state refused to allow the nonprofit group to raise rates 10.5 percent.

The county audit of the hospital blamed some of the losses on fiscal mismanagement and poor governance by Dimensions.

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