UPPER MARLBORO – After the Prince George’s County Council convened as the board of health for a Dimensions Healthcare briefing on the downsizing of the Laurel hospital, state officials proposed an emergency piece of legislation that would grant the council power to block Dimension’s decision. The bill would apply to hospitals in Prince George’s County […]
UPPER MARLBORO – After the Prince George’s County Council convened as the board of health for a Dimensions Healthcare briefing on the downsizing of the Laurel hospital, state officials proposed an emergency piece of legislation that would grant the council power to block Dimension’s decision.
The bill would apply to hospitals in Prince George’s County receiving state and county subsidies and will require hospitals to give the state’s board of health a notice of at least 90 days prior to closure. The board of health would then have to hold a public hearing within five miles of the hospital no later than 30 days after receiving notice.
County Council Chairman Mel Franklin said this legislation would bring power to the county council that it may need to have in the future. Anytime a privately owned company is subsidized by public money, he said, the public needs to have some say in matters dealing with the company.
“The council sitting as the board of health should have some say when a publicly funded hospital is about to close,” Franklin said. “That’s because anytime you have a public funded hospital, that means you have public tax dollars making sure it survives. The public has a stake in that decision.”
The legislation is “going in the right direction,” Franklin said, and is probably something that should have been done “a long time ago.” It makes sense, he said, for the board of health to exercise this role on behalf of the public.
Sitting as a member of the county’s board of health, County Councilwoman Mary Lehman said it seems Dimensions chose not to invest in Laurel Regional Hospital and is using patient population as a reason not to invest.
“It’s as if this hospital went in for a simple procedure and was declared braindead without a diagnosis and was removed from life support,” Lehman said. “It was done without notifying the family. The family isn’t me. It’s the 40 to 50 thousand people in the service area.”
The process Dimensions has used has been “disingenuous,” Lehman said, and needs to be adjusted. It is understandable for changes to be made in a “post-Obamacare” health culture with “data-driven” decisions needing to be made, but the stakeholders need access to clear, transparent information on the process.
People are disenchanted by Dimensions and their processes, Lehman said. They do not believe Dimensions or the University of Maryland Medical System (UMMS) is looking out for their best interest.
“My constituents believe that Dimensions failed to create a system or a culture to consistently deliver excellent care,” Lehman said. “A number of people have told me that their doctors specifically advised them not to do elected procedures at Laurel, saying it’s not a good place for elected surgeries.”
Delegate Joseline Pena-Melnyk, who previously said Dimensions made its decision to downsize the hospital “under the cover of night,” said the bill would provide citizens with transparency.
“It’s needed because the hospital system shouldn’t be allowed to operate under cloak and dagger,” Pena-Melnyk said. “People are worried about what’s going to happen next and how they will be affected.”
Pena-Melnyk represents Laurel and serves on the state’s health committees in the general assembly. The bill would take effect on the date of enactment, if passed.
State senator Jim Rosapepe, who also serves on the health committee for the state, said the Prince George’s residents he has heard from are angry.
“This hospital system is funded by taxpayer dollars and should not be allowed to close,” Rosapepe said.
The county and state have subsidized $153 million to Dimensions over the last nine years. Last week, at a press conference in front of the hospital, Rosapepe said he would not vote to authorize another state dollar to Dimensions Healthcare until the agreement between the state, county and Dimensions is restructured.
Already, 118 workers have been laid off from their jobs at the hospital. In the future, 32 labor and delivery nurses and six other service employees will be laid off effective Oct. 11 when the Maternal and Child Health Department shuts down.
County Executive Rushern Baker III still has not spoken with Laurel Mayor Craig Moe, according to Audrey Barnes, a spokeswoman for the city of Laurel. Moe wrote a letter to Baker asking for his aid in keeping the hospital’s full service.
The purpose of Kaufman Hall recommendation, according to Dimensions President and CEO Neji Moore, is not to remove Laurel Regional Hospital and its employees, but to keep down the company’s finances.
Moore said Kaufman Hall updated Dimensions throughout the process as it obtained more information and developed options. However, he said, it did not think to contact state officials with this information.
“We post our financials and we always post our financials,” Moore said. “At the time we engaged Kaufman Hall, it was so that Kaufman Hall could take a look and see if we could turn around the financials of the organization. It was not intended to close the inpatient services of the hospital.”
Lehman said the process they went through, without any public input or notification, is unacceptable and moved too quickly. Dimensions hired Kaufman Hall during a time where the general assembly was in session, she said, and they were not notified.
“That seems like warp speed to me. To go through that process that quickly. At the outset, you’re talking about six months if you begin at the beginning outlined,” Lehman said.
However, Moore said, the meetings were open to the public and on the agenda, but the board did vote on the adoption of the recommendations.
This is a major undertaking, Councilman Obie Patterson said, and the community should have been brought in on the matter beforehand. Not bringing them in is a disservice to the people who live in the service area.
Only 40 percent of the laid off workers will be able to regain their jobs elsewhere after different wings of the hospital close off, Patterson said. There has been no transparency in the process, he said, and it needs to be changed.
“It is also a disservice for me that I sit here in proud times and voted on money that was given to Dimensions to implement a part of this plan,” Patterson said. “I’m very sensitive about leaving people out. I don’t know what happened to transparency here, but to me there was none here.”