Monday, January 22, 2007

The Maryland Attorney General’s Office says state lawmakers can require the University of Maryland Medical System to take over running Prince George’s Hospital Center.

The advisory comes as lawmakers consider a proposal to have the university system assume the operations of Dimensions Healthcare System, the troubled nonprofit in charge of Prince George’s Hospital Center, Laurel Regional Hospital and the Bowie Health Center.

Executives for Dimensions last week said they will close the facilities unless they get a $5 million bailout, but Prince George’s County officials have expressed frustration because Dimensions has received more than $50 million in subsidies since 2003.

According to a Jan. 18 letter by Assistant Attorney General Bonnie A. Kirkland, state lawmakers legally have the power to require University of Maryland Medical System (UMMS) to take over the troubled hospitals.

The letter came in response to an inquiry from Delegate Victor R. Ramirez, Prince George’s Democrat, who is sponsoring the proposal.

Miss Kirkland said that the UMMS was created by the state and “is subject to legislative control.”

“UMMS was created for a public purpose,” Miss Kirkland wrote. “Thus, it is my view that the General Assembly may require the UMMS to acquire the hospital system.”

UMMS has been a leading candidate to takeover Dimensions, but a deal has languished amid questions about whether the medical center wants to pursue the project.

UMMS officials were not available for comment yesterday.

Union leaders representing service workers employed by Dimensions said yesterday they favor such a takeover.

“We’re exerting all of our political power to make it happen,” said Quincey Gamble, political director for the Service Employees International Union Local 1199.

“It’s a very difficult time for the employees,” Mr. Gamble said. “The hospital is once again in crisis mode.”

Michelle Healy, vice president of the local chapter, said it’s likely that Dimensions workers will see signs posted in the next few weeks giving notice of pending closure.

She said Dimensions would be required to give at least 60 days notice. If the health system gives notice of closure, she said it’s possible a bailout could still occur.

“We believe we can avert the closure,” Miss Healy said. “The worst-case scenario is that we’d have to cobble together some kind of emergency bailout. But what we need is a real comprehensive solution.”

Last week, Prince George’s County Executive Jack B. Johnson said he is considering giving the health system a $5 million bailout. Dimensions runs the health care facilities under a lease deal with the county government, which owns the hospitals.

Mr. Johnson cautioned that the money would come under conditions still being considered. It is expected Mr. Johnson would insist on a change in management at Dimensions.

The attorney general’s letter stated that lawmakers also could require that Prince George’s County transfer the hospital buildings to UMMS.

Mr. Johnson last week said officials are willing to transfer the county-owned assets for the right operator.

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