Laurel Regional Hospital

Dr. Douglas Gilbert, D.O., left, is part of a group of new doctors working in the emergency room at Laurel Regional Hospital. (Photo by Nate Nesce, Patuxent Publishing / July 24, 2012)

Change has started to materialize in the Prince George's County health care system, and Laurel Regional Hospital, in many ways, is on the front end of it.

A new hospital president and University of Maryland doctors who manage the emergency department started work in the beginning of July — the first of many changes in store for Laurel Regional as the county moves to revitalize its health care offerings.

The county-owned health care system includes three 24-hour hospitals — Laurel Regional; Prince George's Hospital Center, in Cheverly; and Bowie Health Campus — and two medical centers. For years, the system has been run by Dimensions Health Care System, a small nonprofit formed in 1982 to manage operations at the county facilities.

Dimensions and the county have had their fair share of financial challenges, which led officials back in 2008 to start to look for a buyer for the health care system, one that could operate independently from the county and had the financial resources to enhance the health care services offered to county residents.

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Last year, the county, the state and Dimensions signed a memorandum of understanding with the University of Maryland Medical System to address the health challenges facing the county. The agreement called for the partners to determine the feasibility of transforming the system into a network of teaching hospitals, anchored by a new regional medical facility.

A location for the facility, which is to replace Prince George's Hospital Center, has not yet been identified. The buildings in Cheverly are anticipated to be used for other health care offices.

The partners have taken steps toward accomplishing that goals outlined in the memorandum, the most visible of which is the addition of University of Maryland physicians in Laurel Regional Hospital's emergency department.

"The medical staff is excited about this," said Thomas Burguieres, chairman of Laurel Regional's Emergency Medicine Department. "It's going to bring a different level of care."

Burguieres said the county's hospital system has been suffering and the need for it to be affiliated with a major medical system, like the University of Maryland, has been discussed time and time again. Having physicians from the university run the Emergency Department, he said, "is the tip of the spear for what we hope is going to be a long and fruitful transition."

Of the 10 full-time and eight part-time physicians and four physicians assistants working in the Emergency Department, about half of them are fresh faces from the University of Maryland Medical System, according to Burguieres.

"Next month, some more will be coming in," he said.

The staff that are being retained are being trained to work under the University of Maryland system.

"It's their level of training that's the big difference here," John O'Brien, president of Prince George's Hospital Center, said.

University of Maryland physicians are scheduled to begin working at O'Brien's hospital on Aug. 16. More will begin working at Bowie Health Campus in January.

Rahim Ligon, director of quality and risk management for the University of Maryland Medical System, is now working with Laurel Regional as her home hospital. In her second week at Laurel, she noted that the hospital is "doing wonderful things."

The benefits of Laurel partnering with the University of Maryland, Ligon said, are additional resources, such as increased access to sub specialties and tertiary care, and more doctors working in the emergency room at any one time.

Hospital officials anticipate the more robust staffing will reduce wait times for patients in the emergency room.

Laurel Regional Hospital sees about 36,000 patients in the Emergency Department each year, about 30 percent of the total 120,000 emergency patients treated in the county's three hospitals, according to Dimensions Vice President of Emergency Services Mark Arsenault.

"We're really covering a large proportion ofPrince George's Countycitizens," he said, noting the University of Maryland partnership "will strengthen our emergency services" and "continually improve wait times at all three departments."

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