- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 22, 2004

Prince George’s County emergency crews took more patients to Greater Southeast Community Hospital in the District last year, compared with the number of trips D.C. crews made to Prince George’s Hospital Center in Cheverly, according to recently released statistics.

The Prince George’s Department of Fire and Emergency Medical Services took 518 trips to Greater Southeast last year — 100 more trips than D.C. crews took to Prince George’s Hospital Center during the same period, statistics released by the county department show.

The movement of patients across the Maryland-D.C. border figures prominently in a growing dispute between D.C. and Maryland health officials.

Last month, Maryland Secretary of Health and Mental Hygiene Nelson J. Sabatini called the District’s health care system “chaotic” and said the city should pay for its uninsured residents who receive care at Prince George’s Hospital Center.

Statistics from D.C. Emergency Medical Services at the time showed that D.C. emergency crews took 418 trips across the border in 2003 to drop patients off at Prince George’s Hospital Center.

Capt. Chauncey Bowers, a spokesman for the Prince George’s Fire and EMS Department, said Greater Southeast is a routine stop for county emergency crews. He cited the hospital’s location in Ward 8 on Southern Avenue SE, which divides Prince George’s County and the District.

“For our units that operate in Oxon Hill, obviously, Greater Southeast is one of the closest hospitals they have to choose from,” Capt. Bowers said.

“These geographic boundaries are going to be crossed,” he said. “There is no way around it.”

Still, the flow of patients between Maryland and the District remains a point of contention for heath officials on both sides of the border.

For example, the parent company of Prince George’s Hospital Center recently submitted a bill for more than $5 million to D.C. government, asking for reimbursement for treating thousands of indigent city residents since 2001. City officials are refusing to pay the bill.

Meanwhile, officials at the D.C. Hospital Association last week began seeking federal funds allotted to Maryland and Virginia hospitals to pay for illegal aliens from the neighboring states who receive treatment in D.C. emergency rooms.

D.C. hospitals rely on Maryland residents for hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue, according to the hospital association’s 2002 financial report. Maryland residents accounted for 36 percent of all inpatient visits, or more than $800 million, the report showed.

In response to the debate, D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams has said he wants the city to keep better track of the number of indigent nonresidents who receive care at D.C. hospitals.

Public health officials warn that will be a tough task.

“We know patients are moving across the line in both ways,” said Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the D.C.-based American Public Health Association. “I don’t know who would win at the end of the day.”

Dr. Benjamin, who previously served as Maryland health commissioner and as chairman of ambulatory care at D.C. General Hospital, said Prince George’s Hospital Center likely treats more expensive cases because of its designation as a regional trauma center.

But he said some Maryland residents likely go to Greater Southeast because it is located on the border.

“There needs to be a regional discussion of how to best take care of the citizens,” Dr. Benjamin said. “I’d like to see them put their hatchets down and start talking.”

Heather Schafer, executive director of the D.C.-based National Volunteer Fire Council, which represents fire and emergency medical services crews, said the job of emergency workers calls for them to cross state and county lines.

“In an emergency situation, the goal is to have the patient or victim in a situation where they’ll be able to get the closest medical attention available,” she said.

“The emergency responder isn’t going in thinking about whether a person is covered by insurance or what political infighting is going on.”

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