BridgePoint Healthcare, a for-profit hospital operator, has shown interest in purchasing Laurel Regional and has requested the facility's financial status from current owner Dimensions Healthcare System.
A Washington-based hospital operator, BridgePoint has two long-term acute care hospitals on Capitol Hill and in Southwest Washington, according to the its website, providing 24-hour physician, nursing and respiratory care. According to President and CEO Marc Ferrell, BridgePoint purchased two formerly bankrupt hospitals from Specialty Hospital of Washington, with an investment of roughly $40 million.
Ferrell said discussions with Dimensions Healthcare System began Oct. 8 when BridgePoint submitted a letter of interest to Dimensions President and CEO Neil Moore.
"We informed him that we were interested in entering a discussion with them to acquire the assets of Laurel Regional with the purposes of it being operated in its current configuration with the hospital emergency room and specialty programs," Ferrell said. "This interest aligns with the desires of the community and we would like to move down that pathway."
Ferrell said Dimensions requested documentation from BridgePoint to determine its financial ability to operate the hospital.
"We've also submitted to them our intent to operate the hospital as a community hospital," Ferrell said. "The best way to put it now is the ball is in their court."
Prince George's County District 1 Councilwoman Mary Lehman said she first heard about BridgePoint's consideration through the city of Laurel after running into Farrell in Laurel Mayor Craig Moe's office a couple of weeks ago.
"[BridgePoint] got in touch with my office pretty quickly, indicating an interest in meeting," Lehman said.
Leman said Dimensions indicated it was "willing to engage" with BridgePoint, and that she was "sure BridgePoint is going to be very thorough in getting as much access as they can to make an informed decision."
A lot of that access "is in Dimensions' hands," Moe said.
Lehman said Ferrell seemed "optimistic" about possibly acquiring Laurel Regional and that any competition with University of Maryland Medical System, whose doctors staff Laurel's emergency room as part of the system's affiliation with Laurel Regional, "shouldn't be an issue."
"I don't know what BridgePoint will specifically be looking for, but some of it will be what level of investment Dimensions has made to the building, the equipment and the technology," she said. "How many years will it take to turn it around? How much investment do they need to make? Once they get into these discussions with Dimensions, they're not going to be able to disclose that publicly. I'm hoping they would tell me what their impression is, generally, whether it's worth the investment or not."
University of Maryland Medical System media relations director Bill Seiler said they expect Dimensions to take the lead in deciding the "most appropriate options" for Laurel Regional Hospital.
Since the discussions are in the early stages, Seiler said, University of Maryland Medical System could not comment further.
While Ferrell said Laurel Regional is "feasible in its current configuration," he explained that Dimensions "suspended discussions" with BridgePoint last week, pending a lawsuit filed by 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East union and Laurel residents in mid-October. According to a press release from the union, the lawsuit states Dimensions violated their lease agreement and that the "hospital's board cannot alone decide to eliminate beds or services at the facility."
Dimensions spokeswoman Erika Murray confirmed that discussions are on hold pending the lawsuit, saying, "it's still premature" for Dimensions to make any definitive comment on BridgePoint's potential involvement in Laurel Regional's future.
"To date, there has not been any exchange of information that would allow BridgePoint to make a definitive offer, or allow Dimensions Healthcare System to consider one," Murray said Tuesday evening.
Maryland Maternity Access Coalition spokesman Ron Boehmer said BridgePoint received a letter from coalition president Beth Laverick on Tuesday, asking Ferrell to reinstitute obstetric care.
"In the event that BridgePoint Healthcare is successful in acquiring Laurel Regional Hospital, we, the Maryland Maternity Access Coalition urge BridgePoint to reinstitute obstetrical care related services at Laurel Regional Hospital in order to better serve expectant mothers in the greater Laurel area," the letter read.
"... The coalition believes that Prince George's County – a county with nearly one million residents – should have more than one hospital that provides a full-range of obstetrical healthcare services for women," Boehmer added via email.
Elected officials have also asked the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene State Secretary Van Mitchell for a 90-day waiting period to halt additional layoffs and unit closures, Lehman said, to allow consideration for the potential buyout.
"Everyone believes fully that if that hospital totally closes its doors, it will never open again," Lehman said. "I hope there's some court action soon."
A hearing on the hospital's closure will be held before the Maryland House Health and Government Operations Committee at 1 p.m. on Nov. 19 at the Lowe House Office Building in Annapolis, where Dimensions representatives will testify and face delegates' questions.
Bill Goddard, the city's emergency services coordinator, said the Laurel Volunteer Rescue Squad has already seen some close calls following the Oct. 11 closure of the hospital's maternal and child health unit. On Oct. 26, he said, ambulances were called to Laurel Regional around 9 a.m. and then again at 12:20 p.m. for two separate incidents of maternity patients needing medical transport. On Nov. 7, 84 more hospital employee layoffs will take effect.
"It's a big issue for the city and it's exactly this very issue that we were concerned about; that patients would arrive at the hospital in need of acute maternal care and have to be transported by emergency services," Goddard said. "Quite frankly, what that does is take ambulances — in this case, two ambulances — out of the city of Laurel to transport people to another hospital facility."