The Washington Post
Ultimatum For Prince George’s Hospital
County Seeks 4 Resignations
The ailing Prince George’s hospital system will receive no more public money until four members of its board of directors resign, County Executive Jack B. Johnson (D) said this week.
Johnson’s comments were the first to tie county funding to a shake-up of the board of Dimensions Healthcare System, the nonprofit company that runs Prince George’s Hospital Center and four other county health facilities.
The county executive and some key County Council members have argued that the Dimensions board has mismanaged the hospital system, compounding its fiscal problems.
Last week, top county officials requested the resignations of four board members, a shake-up that could give elected county leaders greater say over hospital operations. The request was made by Johnson’s chief of staff, Michael D. Herman, who is also a board member, during a closed board meeting.
The board tabled a debate on the request.
Johnson’s comments this week set up a showdown between the 11-member volunteer board and top county officials over tens of millions of dollars in funding that hospital officials have said is needed to keep their doors open.
“There are many deficiencies in the hospital that must be addressed,” Johnson said. “We need a board that can address these things and isn’t going to just wait around for a check.”
Also yesterday, the Maryland Board of Public Works agreed to spend $3.2 million in state money on renovations at the hospital center in Cheverly. But it did so only
after receiving assurances that the county could not withhold the state dollars from the system.
Johnson wants Dimensions Board Chairman Calvin Brown to step down by Monday, along with three other board members: the chairmen of the boards of Prince George’s Hospital Center and Laurel Regional Hospital, and the former president of the Prince George’s County Medical Society.
Under the executive’s proposal, remaining board members would select the replacements, choosing community members rather than Dimensions employees or board members from the system’s hospitals.
Among the board members not targeted for resignation by Johnson were Herman and County Council Chairman Camille Exum (D-Seat Pleasant), along with two other members who were nominated to the Dimensions board by Herman.
Critics say Johnson is essentially trying to take over the system.
The hospital system serves 180,000 patients each year, many of them poor and uninsured. It has lost money for years and received repeated infusions of public cash. After the General Assembly session ended in April with no long-term solution to the system’s problems, Johnson and the council agreed to use an unspecified amount of tax dollars to keep the hospital open through June 2008.
At the time, hospital leaders said they did not believe there were conditions attached to the county funds. But Johnson argued Tuesday that the hospital board had already agreed to restructure in February, under an arrangement that secured the hospital a $5 million payment from the county.
“I am not going to authorize any more money until they honor their commitment,” Johnson said.
Hospital leaders have said repeatedly that without additional state or county funds, they will be forced to begin to shut down the system, sending thousands of patients to other area hospitals and shuttering one of the region’s busiest trauma centers.
The board is not scheduled to meet again until July 12, but Brown said an emergency meeting may now be scheduled. He declined to comment on Johnson’s ultimatum until the board had a chance to meet.
Another board member targeted for resignation rejected Johnson’s allegation that board mismanagement has been responsible for the system’s years of trouble. William Williams, 72, a retired federal government official, serves on the Dimensions board as a representative of the Laurel hospital.
He argued that a lack of reliable funding and perpetual uncertainty about the future have made growth impossible.
He cited as an example difficulties replacing two pieces of equipment, each more than a decade old, that could improve the bottom line at the Laurel hospital. He said hospital leaders worked out a deal to lease more modern versions. A few weeks ago, the vendor pulled the plug on the deal, citing fear that the system might go out of business.