- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 23, 2003

Prince George’s County Executive Jack B. Johnson and members of the County Council said yesterday they will implement a plan without state assistance to save the financially troubled Prince George’s Hospital Center.

Mr. Johnson, a Democrat, made the decision after Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican, rejected his request for $10 million in state aid to cover short-term needs and for permission to appoint two persons to an oversight committee for the hospital.

The county’s five-year plan calls for putting $30 million into the hospital.

Mr. Johnson said the first-year infusion of $15 million would come from county coffers and profits from land sales.

The hospital and its operator, Dimensions Healthcare System, are about to default on $80 million in tax-exempt bonds and last month failed to get a state health commission to approve a temporary 10.5 percent rate increase.

“We are upgrading the equipment; we are stabilizing the hospital, and we have done it assuming that we will not get a rate increase or additional revenue,” Mr. Johnson said at a news conference yesterday.

The hospital, the county’s main health care facility for the poor, treats about 200,000 patients a year. About half of them are without insurance or rely on Medicaid.

Mr. Johnson said he is still negotiating with Mr. Ehrlich regarding a state-county partnership, though he recently said the Ehrlich administration had attempted a “state takeover.”

Mr. Johnson declined to say what he would ask of the administration, but ruled out the immediate sale of the hospital.

“Do we need help from the state?” Mr. Johnson asked. “Yes, we do. It is not about saving the hospital. It is about saving health care. This is about making sure parents have somewhere to take their children.”

Mr. Johnson said eight of the hospital’s top officials were either asked to resign or have retired owing to the recent financial trouble. He also said the hospital is projecting a modest profit as soon as 2007.

Council member Thomas R. Hendershot, a Democrat, said the county was doing the right thing and that Mr. Ehrlich was paying more attention to the Baltimore city health system than the county’s.

“I do not believe the state of Maryland has done what it should do,” he said. “It has not come close, and now is the time to step up.”

Fellow Democratic council member Marilynn Bland, a Dimensions Healthcare board member, agreed.

“I believe the state has some obligation to contribute something, but we can’t wait for that,” she said. “I think it is brilliant for the county executive to say we have to move on and we are not going to wait.”

This story is based in part on wire service reports.

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