Thursday, October 28, 2004

The parent company of financially troubled Prince George’s Hospital Center disclosed plans yesterday to eliminate as many as 125 jobs, despite its intention to give a pay raise to outside hospital consultants.

The job cuts, disclosed in a statement from Dimensions Healthcare System, which operates the Cheverly hospital, will mean the loss of up to 5 percent of the company’s 2,500 employees, though officials did not say which departments will be hit the hardest.

The cuts will affect “medical and nonmedical” positions, said Bob Howell, a spokesman for Dimensions, which also runs Laurel Regional Hospital and clinics and nursing homes in Maryland.

The staffing reduction was recommended by consultants from Cambio Health Solutions.

“It is a difficult decision whenever we take an action that will affect our employees,” said Tony Jones, Dimensions’ interim chief executive officer hired by Cambio last month.

Cambio, a Tennessee-based consulting firm, began reviewing operations at Dimensions after the nonprofit health system received a $45 million bailout package from the state and county governments.

The package called for the hiring of a turnaround company to recommend changes at Dimensions. The original contract called for Cambio to receive $2 million. The board of directors at Dimensions recently decided to pay Cambio as much as $500,000 in additional fees.

Sources say additional cuts call for the elimination of as many as 80 contract employees, including contract nurses.

The decision to pay Cambio more money has come under scrutiny after the job cuts announced yesterday. Critics include hospital employees and members of a government oversight panel recently formed to monitor operations at Dimensions.

“It is fair to say that a majority of the oversight committee expressed grave concern and even some anger that the board hadn’t done a very good job of making that deal,” said Thomas R. Hendershot, a Prince George’s County council member who’s on the Dimensions oversight committee.

Armeta Dixon, executive vice president of the Service Employees International Union 1199E-DC, which represents clerical workers, maintenance staff and others at Dimensions, criticized paying consultants more money while workers are facing layoffs. “It angers me,” she said. “That money could have been better spent.”

Mr. Hendershot said the decision to exceed the $2 million was not fully explained. “I don’t know the basis for which Dimensions is able to exceed that amount,” he said. “I asked and I was told that the lawyers said it was all right, but I don’t know why.”

The Dimensions board also has come under criticism because of continued financial problems at the health system. Dimensions has lost nearly $48 million since 1999, according to tax documents and a county study conducted last year.

Mr. Hendershot also said some oversight committee members were concerned that the Dimensions’ board “got pushed around.”

“I’m not criticizing Cambio,” he said. “It’s their job to get as much money as they can. But it’s the board’s job to be fiscally responsible and tough negotiators.”

Dimensions officials declined to comment on the Cambio arrangement.

Thomas W. Singleton, Cambio’s chief executive officer, had said the additional funds were needed because the company was asked to do more work than planned. He had said the board had asked Cambio to hire an interim chief executive officer and an interim chief financial officer to manage the health system through early next year.

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