- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 26, 2005

The D.C. government owes the company that runs Prince George’s Hospital Center more than $6 million for treating poor city residents who sought care in Maryland after the District shut down its only public hospital, the company’s top executive said yesterday.

G.T. Dunlop Ecker, chief executive officer of Dimensions Healthcare System, told the nonprofit company’s board of directors he is seeking aid from “federal elected officials … to help the D.C. government meet their moral and ethical obligations” in paying for the treatment.

Dimensions runs Prince George’s Hospital Center, Laurel Regional Hospital, the Bowie Health Campus and several nursing homes. It is facing increasing financial pressures, including a proposal for freezing its employees’ pension plan.

Mr. Ecker said Dimensions recently sent the D.C. government a “strongly worded letter” after city officials failed to respond to the company’s request last year seeking about $5.2 million. He said the debt has grown to more than $6 million.

Dimensions says it has provided treatment for thousands of city residents who previously had sought care at D.C. General Hospital before the District shut down the public hospital in 2001.

Officials said the flow of patients from the District into Prince George’s County has contributed to Dimensions’ worsening financial problems, though the company hasn’t said what, if any, actions it can take to collect on the bill.

Legally, Mr. Ecker said the District may not be required to pay the bill. But he said the District had a “moral” obligation to do so because the District closed D.C. General Hospital.

After closing D.C. General, city officials created the D.C. Healthcare Alliance — a $94 million-a-year plan funded entirely by the District that funds care at a network of D.C.-based member hospitals and clinics for eligible uninsured residents not covered by Medicaid.

Dimensions does not belong to the Alliance.

D.C. officials last year balked at paying the bill, saying thousands of uninsured Maryland residents also have received treatment in D.C. hospitals and failed to pay their bills.

Robert A. Malson, executive director of the D.C. Hospital Association, yesterday opposed Dimensions’ collection efforts.

“I don’t think it’s a good idea for a hospital in the county to be sending bills to the District, or for a hospital in the District to be sending bills to Prince George’s County Council,” he said.

In February, an oversight panel studying Dimensions’ finances recommended that Maryland’s congressional delegation take funds from the District to pay for care that uninsured city residents receive in Prince George’s County.

The panel said Dimensions absorbs the bills for many uninsured D.C. residents who seek treatment in Maryland, while city hospitals attract fully insured Maryland patients to the District.

“To address this imbalance,” the oversight committee concluded, “Maryland’s congressional delegation should take steps to secure for the system an appropriate share of the federal funds appropriated for the District.”

Analyst Barbara Ormond of the D.C.-based Urban Institute, who has studied the District’s hospital industry, said the movement of patients is especially difficult to track in the District.

“There are a lot of us who would like to see uncompensated care [costs] broken out by ZIP code,” she said. “We’re a tiny jurisdiction. You go across the street, and you’re in another jurisdiction.”

However, Miss Ormond said Dimensions’ collection efforts, if successful, could open the door for D.C. health providers to seek payment from Maryland jurisdictions, including Prince George’s County.

“You’re opening it up to happen the other way around,” she said.

John Erzen, spokesman for Prince George’s County Executive Jack Johnson, said the county government has “no position” on Dimensions’ request for D.C. health care funds.

“This is just something where Dimensions is trying to get money from the District that they feel they’re entitled to, but we’re staying out of that,” Mr. Erzen said.

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