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The Return of the Hospital Debate

Rosalind Helderman

Things have been pretty quiet with the troubled Prince George's hospital system since county officials pledged in April to use public money to keep the doors open through June 2008. But Del. Doyle Niemann (D) thinks the quiet is a bad idea, repeating a years-long pattern of half-resolved crisis moments followed by months of inaction.

Niemann sponsored a bill this year that was the basis for ultimately unsuccessful negotiations between the state and county for a long-term solution for the system's problems. He says this year, discussions must start early. As in, right now.

That's why he is already circulating an updated version of this year's bill. He says it could be considered by the legislature if it holds a special session in the fall or during next year's session that will convene in January.

Like this year's bill, Niemann's new proposal, which you can read here and here, would create a Hospital Authority that would take over for Dimensions Healthcare, the non-profit company that now runs Prince George's Hospital Center and four other county health facilities.

The Authority would have the ability to hire and fire employees, making management decisions and negotiate with new hospitals interested in taking over the system. It would be supported by a state-mandated 3 percent property tax on county residents for 10 years, which Niemann estimates would raise at least $190 million. The state would also contribute: $10 million a year in operating and $13 million a year in capital expenses for the next 7 years, resulting in $161 million in state funds.

In an attempt to steer clear of the issue that derailed the deal this year, Niemann's bill would specify that the county would not have to turn over the hospitals' land and building to the authority. This year, the county council rejected a similar deal with the state because members believed they were being asked to give up the land for essentially nothing. Instead, Niemann's new bill would specify that the county could keep the land but the Authority would take over the lease Dimensions now holds, in which they pay $1 year for the next 35 years.

He said he had forwarded his bill to the council and executive Jack B. Johnson (D), but he also said it is designed so that the county's agreement is not necessary to make the plan work.

Niemann says it's important to get the public talking now about his ideas and others. "What we need is a public discussion, to say here are the stakes. This is what we lose if we don't act. But more than that, this is what we can gain if we act in a positive, proactive direction."

Stay tuned.

By Rosalind Helderman  |  June 6, 2007; 10:48 AM ET
Categories:  Rosalind Helderman  
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Before Mr. Niemann starts talking about a 3% increase in the property tax and before the Post writes about a tax increase proposal as the editors are wont to do, why don't some P.G. collections attorneys take a look at why P.G. Hospital doesn't do a better job of collecting fees from those who actually use the services? The problem is that a lot of people do not pay their bills and nobody is doing anything about it but proposing tax increases.
Also, why are we still waiting to hear why the police were chasing a sole motorcyclist on the crowded Beltway resulting in the deaths or injuries of many innocent people? These guys who like to speed in and out of traffic always get theirs anyway. Just ask any emergency room surgeon. Chasing them with cars just makes it worse.

Posted by: Robin Ficker | June 6, 2007 8:49 PM | Report abuse

Irrespective of the merits or otherwise of the specific proposal, Doyle Niemann is to be congratulated for attempting to jump start debate.

In my view, schools, hospitals, and other essential services will not improve appreciably until we reform TRIM. I would vote to reform TRIM in exchange for meaningful improved accountability over the politicians, and sanctions with real bite, like mandatory jail time, for offenders. Until we get that, my slogan will be - Politicians, guilty until proven innocent.

Posted by: Count Bobulescu | June 6, 2007 9:55 PM | Report abuse

Please keep your aversion to taxes over in Montgomery County where obviously the people don't agree with you, because they elect representatives that understand there is a need for services, so there is a need for taxation. And Count, I'm with you, I hope to see TRIM reformed as well, so we don't need special taxes imposed from Annapolis. But the only real cure for our horrible leadership is if people in this county get off the laurels they are resting on, and pay attention to the myriad of savvy and experienced activists all over the county who shed light on the corruption and mismanagement that goes on everyday. Until the citizenry understand how bad our county leadership has been and will continue to be if not checked, the county will continue to be mired in its difficulties. I hear there is a think tank being organized in the county to make policy recommendations and give criticism, and I hope everyone who cares about this county will use its resources, because right now what Prince George's is lacking most is an engaged citizenry.

Posted by: RCD | June 7, 2007 6:22 AM | Report abuse

RCD, you write well and you like tax increases. Are you a Post editor? We almost just had a large increase in car fees. We've had large electric and gasoliine hikes. No Fed rate cut is coming. But Doyle's property tax hike and other gasoline, income and sales tax increases are looming. Everybody is having to make better do with what they have except you editors and some pols. It's a bit tiring. Have you seen any Cut the State Sales Tax signs in P.G. where yours truly is in Court everyday and has a Robin Realty office?

Posted by: Robin Ficker | June 7, 2007 8:00 AM | Report abuse

What we need is a Ficker Tax. Every time Mr. Ficker tries to rant about his tax burden, the state of Maryland should collect $1 from him. Say goodbye to deficits!

Posted by: Tired of Being Ficked | June 7, 2007 2:23 PM | Report abuse

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