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Prince George's Hospital Is Thursday's Focus

Dueling news conferences are scheduled Thursday by groups interested in keeping the doors of the financially-struggling Prince George's Hospital Center open.

First, at 9:30 a.m., a group of local ministers and community leaders will gather at the hospital to push Gov. Martin O'Malley, state legislators, County Executive Jack B Johnson and the County Council to "move swiftly to preserve the county's hospital system," according to a release about the event.

It will be led by Greater Mt. Nebo AME Church Pastor Jonathan L. Weaver, First Baptist Church of Glenarden Pastor John K. Jenkins Sr. and First Baptist Church of North Brentwood Pastor Perry Smith. The release indicates the pastors present will represent 250,000 worshippers. Their decision to publicly enter the fray over how to save the system could be a critical turning point. Ministers have substantial political and moral influence in Prince George's.

It's unclear what, exactly, the ministers will advocate, other than "a swift, amiable resolution" and "the necessary funding to sustain and provide qualitative healthcare systems throughout the county."

Then, at 9:45 a.m., SEIU 1199, the union representing 1,700 nurses and other hospital workers at Prince George's Hospital Center and Dimensions' four other county facilities, will host an Annapolis news conference, joined by the Prince George's Chamber of Commerce and various legislators. The union is supporting HB1039, a bill to create an independent state-run authority to take over the hospital system. The bill will be heard by a House committee Thursday afternoon.

Two competing ideas have emerged in Annapolis to handle the county-owned system, now managed by a non-profit company called Dimensions Health. Under HB1039, a newly created authority would take over the system management from Dimensions and ownership of land and buildings from the county. It would stabilize the system through operating grants provided by both the state and county and then pump money into the system to improve facilities and lure more privately-insured patients -- key to the system's longterm survival. The authority could then negotiate with private hospital companies interested in taking over.

Lawmakers have been briefed behind closed doors about the other idea, negotiated in secret by County Executive Jack B. Johnson (D). Johnson has not unveiled the plan publicly but, according to lawmakers, it would involve St. Louis based Catholic hospital chain Ascension Health taking over hospital management in July.

Over the next five years, ownership of the system would be transferred to Ascension, in a process overseen by a county-controlled authority. Ascension would receive $495 million in public funding to stabilize and renovate the system, $297.million coming from the state and $198.million coming from the county.

It is not clear if the ministers prefer either approach. A spokeswoman for them said they will, however, outline "elements they believe will help" save the system at their news conference. SEIU Political Director Ebs Burnough called HB1039 a "substantive plan" for the system's future. He said he cannot respond to Johnson's proposal, since it has not been made fully public.

Johnson, meanwhile, is scheduled to testify Thursday afternoon about HB1039.

By Rosalind Helderman  |  March 5, 2008; 11:40 AM ET
Categories:  Prince George's Hospital  
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Comments

Is Ascension Healthcare the best option for running the only public hospital in the county? Ascension will not offer family planning services and there are questions if stem cell therapies will be provided. Dogma trumps medicine! Are we again taking another step backward in our attempts to move forward?

Posted by: Neighbor | March 5, 2008 10:09 PM | Report abuse

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