The University of Maryland Medical System announced Friday its official affiliation with former hospital owner and operator Dimensions Healthcare System, now known as University of Maryland Capital Regional Health, and a $50 million investment to revitalize Laurel Regional Hospital.
The "University of Maryland" title was added to the names of Dimensions' hospitals and facilities – Prince George's Hospital Center, Laurel Regional Hospital and Bowie Health Center – to reflect the new ownership. UMMS partners with the University of Maryland School of Medicine.
Robert Chrencik, the University of Maryland Medical System's president and CEO, made the announcement Sept. 1, more than two years after Dimensions Healthcare System revealed its plans in July 2015 to transition Laurel Regional into a 24-hour ambulatory care center. Since then, the hospital saw roughly 118 layoffs, including the closure of the hospital's maternity and child heath unit, and the loss of several inpatient care unit employees.
In July 2016, Chrencik informed Laurel residents that state and local officials agreed to keep the full-service hospital's inpatient care services through Dec. 31, 2017, while a community-involved work group reviewed and discussed the facility's future. The group included more than 100 stakeholders, including Laurel residents and business owners, the 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East labor union, Prince George's County Councilwoman Mary Lehman and the Laurel City Council.
Maryland state Sen. Jim Rosapepe and Dels. Joseline Peña-Melnyk, Barbara Frush and Ben Barnes, who represent the 21st Delegation, also supported the effort behind Laurel Regional.
Stephen Bartlett, the vice president of UMMS, said the affiliation is a "huge transformation of healthcare" in Prince George's County, following months of discussions among the strategic planning work group, which he co-chaired with Laurel Mayor Craig Moe. The work group began meeting in November 2016, but previously had informal discussions about Laurel Regional's future.
Bartlett, who is also the surgeon-in-chief at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, said the work group submitted its recommendations for Laurel Regional to the University Maryland Board of Directors on June 30.
"What you can expect over the next 24 months is a transformation of Laurel Regional Hospital into a free-standing medical facility," Bartlett said. "Over time, we will be building a facility that will house a brand-new emergency room that's augmented to take care of our critically ill patients, new operating rooms, a medical office facility and a highly organized developmental behavioral health program."
During the work group's review of the Laurel community's needs, Bartlett said they found a high demand for behavioral health services as well as treatment for obesity, diabetes and respiratory diseases. Lately, Laurel has seen more patients travel to other area hospitals in Howard County, Baltimore and Washington, D.C., he said, due to Laurel hospital's limited services.
"Our objective is to create a center on the Laurel campus that's going to transform not only the way healthcare is delivered, but also create a tremendous business development," Bartlett said. "Laurel is a critical access point for healthcare, both in terms of the unique needs of the area and because of time and distance."
Trudy Hall, the interim president of medical affairs at Laurel Regional, said the campus sits on more than 40 acres and "a lot of space has really been wasted." However, future services, particularly for urgent care patients, will bring treatment to those with cardiovascular disease, pulmonary disorders and other infections.
"There are national changes that are going on in healthcare: The movement toward population health and wellness, and less patients having to come to a solution shop, which is a hospital or tertiary care center," Hall said. "The next steps are looking at how can we focus on managing the acute care needs, but then focus on the population."
Moe said the change of leadership is "long overdue" and will bring doctors and patients back to Laurel. At this time, UMMS doesn't anticipate any future job losses, Moe said.
"It's an investment in the community and the people are really going to respond when they see the University of Maryland Medical System take over," Moe said. "We put together, what I think, is a very good plan for the future. It's been a long fight and I'm glad we're moving in the right direction."
Rosapepe said the Prince George's County Delegation and County Executive Rushern Baker worked tirelessly to bring the University of Maryland Medical System to Prince George's County, even before Dimensions' announcement about Laurel Regional. The new ownership is "a big deal," he said.
"UMMS is a very high-quality hospital organization and they're going to bring a lot of that to Laurel," Rosapepe said. "It's going to take a couple of years to make the kinds of changes that need to be made, but hopefully we'll see some real improvements in the short-run. We already have commitment of more state money for that effort."
The decision to reinvest and modernize Laurel Regional is also crucial to Prince George's County and the Laurel community, Rosapepe added.
"Things like telemedicine weren't a big deal 40 years ago. There are more opportunities for outpatient surgery than there used to be," he said. "My vision, I think everybody's vision, is that we really want this to be a community hospital of the 21st century, not of the 20th century."
The former Dimensions Board was reduced to seven members and will be replaced in 2019 with a permanent board of 21 members.
Some aspects of the planned Largo medical center were also changed, reducing the number of beds from 216 to 205, operating rooms from nine to eight and overall project costs from $639 million to $543 million. An interstitial mechanical floor was removed from the project's original plan.
Groundbreaking for the Largo medical center is expected later this year, with plans to open in 2021.