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Johnson 'Very Excited' About Hospital Bill

Rosalind Helderman

Prince George's County Executive Jack B. Johnson (D) has offered his first public comments on the bill passed by the General Assembly Saturday that will create an independent authority to take over the county's hospital system.

Johnson said Tuesday that he is "very excited" about the bill. "I think...for the first time we've got a blueprint for the success of the hospital," he said.

Johnson acknowledged candidly that he had pushed for changes in the language of the legislation right up until its passage by state lawmakers, amendments that were rejected at the state level.

In particular, Johnson had wanted the state and county to guarantee each will pay $12 million a year for the next two years to the ailing system, to ensure its doors stay open as the authority is created. Instead, the bill says that the county and state must agree to a longterm funding plan for the system within 60 days of its enactment--with one 30 day extension possible--or both sides are released of their obligations to fund the system.

The longterm funding plan will be floated to hospital management companies, in hopes they will bid to take over from Dimensions Health, the nonprofit that now manages the system. Hospital land and buildings are owned by the county.

"I pushed for the fact that 60 days is too short a period," Johnson said. "I know the difficulty of coming up with the proper number in that short period of time...I think they'll find out it's tougher than it looks."

Johnson's silence since the bill's passage had led some to wonder if he no longer supported the vision outlined in the legislation. He said Tuesday that he is committed to the process, despite his wish that some details of the legislation were different. "We've worked hard, we've pushed hard to get to where we are," he said. "It's my intention that we'll work hard now" to make it work.

Asked if he believes the legislation will lead to longterm stability for the busy hospitals, Johnson responded, "It better."

Members of the Prince George's County Council, a body that will have to work with Johnson and state officials in cooperative negotiations envisioned in the legislation, has still offered no public reaction to the passage of the legislation.

Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) has not yet signed the bill but is expected to do so.

By Rosalind Helderman  |  April 9, 2008; 12:47 PM ET
Categories:  Rosalind Helderman  
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