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Health study supports need for new hospital in Prince George's

UMMS to be key partner but doesn't want old hospital's debt

By Andrea K. Walker, The Baltimore Su

6:39 PM EDT, July 25, 2012

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The case for building a new teaching hospital inPrince George's Countyassociated with the University of Maryland Medical System got a boost from a health study released Wednesday, but the question remains how the county and state would pay for it.

The report released by state and local health and government officials detailed the county's health problems and what the new $600 million hospital complex that would replace Prince George's Hospital Center would look like.

Officials say they will spend the next four months hammering out financing for the new facility.

Under the deal, the University of Maryland would partner with Dimensions Healthcare System, which operates the county-owned hospital. The hospital eventually could join the University of Maryland's 12-hospital system.

The University of Maryland system has said it won't take on any of the financially troubled hospital's debt and pension liabilities. Prince George's Hospital Center suffered losses for years because of mismanagement and a patient base that includes many uninsured. It now receives an annual $30 million subsidy from the state and county to operate the hospital but still has significant debt.

"We cannot absorb the financial difficulties that Dimension Healthcare has," said John Ashworth, senior vice president of network development for UMMS.

Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown said he believes the parties will be able to agree on financing. The state and county have good bond ratings that will provide access to the necessary funding, he said.

"I am very confident that once we come to an agreement on the financing model and the responsibility of each of us, we will be able to get the approval to move forward with financing," he said.

Prince George's County residents have long looked outside the county for health care because of the lack of quality services. One estimate is that 25,000 residents go outside the county each year for treatment.

The new data collected from previous health reports and a survey of Prince George's residents by the University of Maryland School of Public Health documented many health disparities in the county. Health officials said the study lays a foundation for a new facility.

"It shows the value of a new hospital center and primary care network in Prince George's County," said Maryland Health Secretary Dr. Joshua Sharfstein.

Sharfstein said the study helped design a hospital network that is "a combination of a new medical center of high quality and access to primary care to help people stay healthy and out of the hospital as much as possible."

County residents face higher rates of chronic diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, asthma and cancer than neighboring counties and in some instances higher than state levels, the study found.

It also showed there weren't enough primary-care physicians in the county for the population. The county could support 61 more primary-care doctors and 31 more dentists, the study concluded. The highest need is within the Capital Beltway and in the southern part of the county.

A new medical system, which would also include upgrades to Laurel Regional Hospital and the Bowie Health Campus, could reduce emergency room visits for asthma, diabetes and hypertension by 16 percent by 2020, the study found. More than 340 lives could be saved every year by focusing on preventing cancer and heart disease.

University of Maryland officials now believe the county needs a medical center with 278 beds, rather than the 330 originally anticipated. However, it would leave room for expanding to as many as 360 beds. Officials did not reveal a site for the new hospital but said it would be located in the central part of the county.

They still believe the hospital should be profitable in two years. They expect to attract thousands of patients who currently leave the county for care, as well as additional patients expected to gain coverage under health care reform.

University of Maryland will work with Dimension and state and local officials to refine the cost of building a facility. As they work out financing, they will include the Healthcare Cost Review Commission, which sets hospital rates in the state, to see if financing for capital improvements could be incorporated in rates.

The plan is to file a certificate of need for the new regional medical center next year.

Meanwhile, the University of Maryland has been working with Dimensions on improving Prince George's Hospital Center, managing the emergency department and helping streamline procurement and operations. Dimensions executives said they have started to see savings.

andrea.walker@baltsun.com

twitter.com:ankwalker

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