- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The chief executive of the parent company for Prince George’s Hospital Center and Laurel Regional Hospital said yesterday that he will recommend closing the facilities after a bailout deal failed.

G.T. Dunlop Ecker, chief executive officer of Dimensions Healthcare System, blamed the Prince George’s County Council for the failed deal with the state to keep open the hospitals and said he will advise the company’s board of directors to start closure proceedings.

About 2,000 people would lose their jobs, and more than 180,000 patients would have to seek treatment elsewhere.

Closing the hospital center, which has the second-busiest trauma unit in the state and is just across the D.C. line, would swamp other emergency rooms in the region. Robert Malson, president of the D.C. Hospital Association, said the closing would be devastating for city hospitals.

“The hospital provides so much care to the uninsured and underinsured,” he said. “I would hope the county would recognize its responsibility to its constituents and take the appropriate steps to keep it open.”

Mr. Ecker said the board also could file for bankruptcy, an option that he called too costly.

“Bankruptcy eats cash,” Mr. Ecker said. “It’s just another avenue to closure.”

Dimensions’ board of directors will meet Monday to decide whether to close or proceed with bankruptcy, Mr. Ecker said. The company must give state officials 45 days’ notice before closing.

The county and state lawmakers had negotiated a deal worth more than $300 million to revive the hospital system, but negotiations faltered just before the end of the 2007 General Assembly session Monday night. The deal collapsed when the County Council opposed the legislation, saying it would have made the county liable for Dimensions’ debts.

County Executive Jack B. Johnson, Gov. Martin O’Malley and other state leaders said yesterday that they would continue to try to keep open the facilities.

Mr. O’Malley, a Democrat, said he would consider calling a special General Assembly session to keep open the health system but added that doing so would be frivolous “as long as the council is where they are.”

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., Southern Maryland Democrat, said he would fight the closings.

“We’re going to make it happen,” he said. “It’s gotta happen. You can’t just put this many people on the street. It has to stay open in some way, shape or form.”

Mr. Johnson, a Democrat, said he hopes to negotiate a deal to keep the health system running through the year, which would cost an estimated $30 million in county funding.

He also said county officials plan to tell Mr. Ecker that “closing is not appropriate.” Mr. Johnson said bankruptcy would be a better alternative.

Mr. Ecker announced his recommendation for closing at a press conference in front of Prince George’s Hospital Center, which brought more than 100 doctors, nurses, administrators and other workers streaming out the front doors.

Dr. Carnell Cooper, director of trauma services for the hospital center, called the news devastating and said many workers likened it to the death of a family member.

“It is literally costing them their livelihoods,” he said.

Dr. Carnell said that closing the hospital’s trauma service could endanger patients in need of urgent care.

“Patients potentially could die,” he said.

The closure also could have a profound impact on health services in the District.

Camille A. Exum, the County Council chairwoman, said she opposed the legislation to bail out the hospital system in part because it holds county taxpayers liable for bonds, pensions and other debt incurred by Dimensions.

“The council is unwilling, without a referendum, to make our taxpayers the insurer of last resort by taking on the bailout of a private organization,” she said Monday.

Mr. Ecker said the council’s opposition is a “profound breach of public trust.”

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