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Maryland elected officials and the healthcare union 1199SEIU announced an emergency bill Tuesday that would empower the Prince George's County Council to decide whether government funded hospitals can close.

The bill, PG 406-16, is being proposed less than two months after Dimensions Health System disclosed a controversial plan to close Laurel Regional Hospital. The plan was approved by the Dimensions Board of Directors without the input of local elected officials, community groups, or the union that represents half of the hospital's workers, raising concerns about the health and welfare of residents in Northern Prince George's County.

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The bill applies only to hospitals in Prince George's County that receive state and county funding and prohibits the closure or partial closure of those hospitals without prior approval of the Prince George's County Council sitting as the Board of Health. It also requires hospitals to give the Board of Health 90 days' notice before a closure, and requires the Board of Health to hold a public hearing within five miles of the hospital no longer than 30 days after receiving the hospital's notice. The Board will then consider all oral and written testimony from the public hearing before making a decision.

"This emergency bill is about transparency, and it's needed because the hospital system shouldn't be allowed to operate under cloak and dagger," Maryland State Del. Joseline Pena-Melnyk said. "People are worried about what's going to happen next and how they will be affected."

At a public hearing held by the office of Laurel Mayor Craig Moe on Aug. 6, Laurel residents were vocal about their concern at how the lack of a local full-service hospital would negatively impact the health and wellness of the surrounding community. But, Dimensions moved forward with the closure plans, later announcing later that the hospital's maternity ward would be the first department to close effective Oct. 11.

"Prince George's residents and businesses are angry--and rightfully so--that Dimensions announced their decision to close down Laurel Regional Hospital's inpatient services before discussing alternatives with us," Maryland state Senator Jim Rosapepe said. "This hospital system is funded by taxpayer dollars and should not be allowed to close a critical facility without giving taxpayers an opportunity to weigh in. This bill will ensure that in the future, the hospital system is not allowed to overreach like this."

Both Pena-Melnyk and Rosapepe represent Laurel and serve on health committees in the legislature.

If passed, the emergency bill would take effect on the date of enactment.

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