- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Leaders of the troubled company that runs Prince George’s Hospital Center and Laurel Regional Hospital avoided closure and bankruptcy last night, saying the health system would stay open because of a last-minute government bailout.

The tentative bailout calls for the Prince George’s government to provide enough cash so Dimensions Healthcare Corp. can stay in business until June 2008, though no hard figure has been mentioned yet.

“We’ve agreed to sit down when we get the numbers and work this out,” said Camille Exum, chairwoman of the Prince George’s County Council and a member of the Dimensions board.

Board Chairman Calvin Brown said there will continue to be “ongoing discussions about the long-term survivability of the organization.” But the deal keeps the health system in business at a time when officials weren’t sure if it would survive.

Dimensions executives had announced a possible closure more than a week ago after the collapse of a legislative bailout package on the last day of Maryland’s legislative session. The other option was bankruptcy.

“Either one of those decisions is extremely shortsighted,” said Quincey Gamble, political director for the Local 1199 of the Service Employees International Union, which represents more than 1,500 workers at Dimensions.

The failed state bailout included more than $325 million in government money, but it fell apart amid opposition from the Prince George’s County Council. Members cited concern about county taxpayers being held accountable for Dimensions’ massive pension liabilities.

Bankruptcy also was among the ideas being considered last night.

But G.T. Dunlop Ecker, Dimensions’ chief executive, said earlier he opposed that idea because the health system did not have enough cash.

Dimensions has incurred multimillion-dollar losses for years at Prince George’s Hospital Center and at Laurel Regional in recent years. The losses stemmed from a large patient mix with no insurance, but a state-ordered review also blamed mismanagement.

Officials last night said one of the problems at Laurel is that the equipment is old and hospital administrators must rely on charitable contributions and fundraising to upgrade the facility.

Mr. Brown said the tentative county bailout does not include any special conditions. However, he said Dimensions will review its operations that care for more than 180,000 patients from “top to bottom.”

The health system has received more than $70 million in state, county and special grant money since 2002.

Michael Herman, a county-appointed member of the Dimensions’ board, said officials are still working to try to find a better long-term solution to the health system’s financial troubles.

“We don’t have the indication of state money at this time,” he said.

The Dimensions’ board planned to discuss the health system’s fate in a closed-door meeting last night, but Mr. Herman objected, citing “great interest” from the public.

Dimensions leases its hospitals under a long-term deal with the county. It also operates the Gladys Spellman Special Hospital, a nursing center, and the Bowie Health Center, an outpatient treatment facility.

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