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Laurel Regional to keep inpatient services through 2017, while work group assess future

Nearly one year after hospital owner and operator Dimensions Healthcare System announced the transition of Laurel Regional Hospital into a 24-hour ambulatory care center, University of Maryland Medical System and state and local officials turned the tables on Monday in Laurel, sharing their agreement to keeping the full-service hospital's inpatient services through Dec. 31, 2017, while creating a community-involved work group to review and improve the facility's future.

Dozens of residents filled the Laurel Municipal Center's council chambers July 18 to listen as UMMS President and CEO Robert Chrencik expressed his delight in joining the city and Prince George's County in keeping Laurel Regional's services available.

"As every bit as important as that regional medical center is, developing a comprehensive healthcare system for the county – in particular a healthcare delivery system up here in Laurel – matters tremendously to University of Maryland Medical System," Chrencik said.

Following the Maryland Health Care Commission's approval of Dimensions Healthcare's certificate of need request for a new regional medical center in Largo, Chrencik said, Dimensions healthcare facilities including Laurel Regional will become affiliates of UMMS.

The announcement was met with applause from residents as well as state and local officials, including Prince George's County Executive Rushern Baker III, County Councilwoman Mary Lehman, state Sen. Jim Rosapepe and Laurel Mayor Craig Moe.

Laurel's elected officials have been battling the transition since it was first announced on July 30, 2015. Over that time, the hospital has seen roughly 118 layoffs, including closure of the hospital's maternity and child health unit as well as the departure of several in-patient care unit employees.

"It has been a long and arduous process this past year in trying to figure out how to keep Laurel Regional Hospital open," said Lehman. "This is the longest and hardest that I have worked on any single issue. But, we will have a full-service hospital with beds in Laurel through 2017 … and this group will work to figure out what Laurel will look like between 2017 and 2019 and beyond 2019."

Moe and University of Maryland Medical System surgeon-in-chief Stephen Bartlett will serve as co-chairmen on the strategic planning work group, which plans to will hear community input and recommendations. The group will determine the future of Laurel Regional, deciding whether to build a new facility or renovate the current campus.

"The design of the new Laurel Hospital will be through an open, collaborative process, not a secret meeting in a back room," Rosapepe said. His remarks were followed by cheers.

Moe said the community's effort in fighting for their hospital did not go unnoticed, highlighting a bus trip to Annapolis in November, where Laurel residents and representatives from the hospital workers union heard testimony on the facility's proposed closure before the state's Health and Government Operations Committee.

A variety of services will be established at the hospital in the future, Moe said, such as enhanced emergency medical care, state-of-the-art operating rooms, overnight observation beds and medical offices in pediatric services and maternal and child care.

"I believe once [Laurel Regional] is rebranded, doctors and residents will return," Moe said.

Baker said the agreement would not have been fulfilled "if it wasn't for the tough decisions Dimensions and their board had made."

As a new relationship forms between the county and University of Maryland Medical System, Baker said he feels hopeful for Laurel Regional Hospital's future, and for healthcare throughout the county and the state.

"We will take into consideration the nurses and doctors who worked there; the folks ... who worked in some really, really challenging conditions," Baker said. "It is our commitment as a government that we fix that, that we help you [and] that you're part of this going forward."

City officials said a final decision on the certificate of need will be reached by the end of the year and that appointments to the work group will continue over weeks to come.

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