ANNAPOLIS – The Prince George’s County hospital fight remains contentious, as the state Senate angered Gov. Larry Hogan by passing a mandate for hospital funding. On March 2, the Maryland Senate voted 36-to-9 to pass the Prince George’s County Regional Medical Center Act of 2016. Introduced by Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller (D), the […]
ANNAPOLIS – The Prince George’s County hospital fight remains contentious, as the state Senate angered Gov. Larry Hogan by passing a mandate for hospital funding.
On March 2, the Maryland Senate voted 36-to-9 to pass the Prince George’s County Regional Medical Center Act of 2016. Introduced by Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller (D), the bill would mandate state and county funds to provide for the operating costs of the current hospital, run by Dimensions Health Systems, as well as for the costs to construct a new regional medical center in Largo and transition its management from Dimensions to the University of Maryland Medical System (UMMS).
The vote happened largely along party lines. Hogan had been working with county and UMMS stakeholders to come up with his own funding plan in the form of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), and Republican lawmakers said Hogan should be given more time to craft that proposal, leading nine of them to vote against the bill. But five Republicans joined the Democrats in carrying the measure.
Hogan spokesman Doug Mayer said the bill’s passage makes it harder to complete the MOU, although the governor’s office is still working to do so. Mayer said an MOU is preferable to a spending mandate because it holds all parties accountable.
“As a result of his impatience and incredible shortsightedness, Senate President Miller may have single-handedly wrecked the work that has gone into a carefully crafted agreement between the state, county, UMMS and Dimensions to ensure that people of Prince George’s County would have access to high quality healthcare,” Mayer said.
Miller’s office did not return requests for comment.
One Senate Democrat, Prince George’s County Senator James Rosapepe (21), did not vote either way on the bill. He explained he was fulfilling a promise he made to constituents regarding another county hospital in trouble, the Laurel Regional Medical Center.
“I have told my constituents that, until the Laurel Hospital’s status is resolved satisfactorily, I would not vote for more state money for Prince George’s hospital system,” he said. “I’m working closely with Laurel leaders, UMMS, and state and county officials to get an agreement on robust medical services for Laurel. We’re making great progress, but as of Wednesday, did not yet have an agreement.”
County Executive Rushern Baker III was pleased the funding act moved forward.
“This legislation simply codifies the state’s commitment to addressing the need for better healthcare delivery services for residents of Prince George’s County, as well as Southern Maryland,” he said in a statement.
Baker had been pushing Hogan to provide full funding for the hospital ever since the governor’s fiscal year 2016 (FY16) budget did not include $15 million in operational funds that had been promised by Hogan’s predecessor, Martin O’Malley, in an MOU that expired in 2015. After initially omitting operational funding again in FY17, Hogan released a supplemental budget including $15 million for operations and pledged $55 million in operational and $135 million in capital funding over the next five years. The initial budget did include $27.5 million in capital funds for the new hospital’s construction.
However, Baker attacked Hogan for not replacing the $15 million from FY16 and for refusing to sign a binding agreement like an MOU to guarantee the money, viewing Hogan’s statement as an empty promise. Baker also called on Hogan to back the funding mandate bills in the legislature.
The Prince George’s Regional Medical Center Act of 2016 was introduced into both houses prior to Hogan’s supplemental budget and funding promise, and spokesmen at the time called the measure premature. The bills also increased the state’s contribution by $8 million over even what O’Malley had agreed to provide.
State capital expenditures included in the bill total $143 million over five years, while the operational funding level of $55 million remains the same.
Mayer had harsh words for Miller.
“President Miller reneged on a promise. The senator had committed to work with the administration to ensure the MOU would get done and all parties could continue to negotiate in good faith to find a solution to this issue,” he said. “Instead, Sen. Miller has opted for a hastily-crafted, one-size-fits-all bill that mandates more state spending but fails to hold Prince George’s County, UMMS, Dimensions or anyone else accountable for the success of the new medical center in Prince George’s County. It’s a waste of time and it is pure politics and another step in the wrong direction.”
County officials disagreed with Mayer’s assessment that it is a waste of time.
“We look forward to passage of the Prince George’s County Regional Medical Center Act of 2016 by the House of Delegates which will provide the certainty and clarity needed to build the new Regional Medical Center, unify the University of Maryland Medical System and Dimensions Healthcare System, and ultimately provide the residents of Prince George’s County with improved health care access and health outcomes,” Baker said in a statement.
County Council Chairman Derrick Davis also released a statement supporting the bill.
“We appreciate the leadership of Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller and the Maryland Senate upon the passage of the Prince George’s County Regional Medical Center Act of 2016,” he said. “These transitional funds are essential to the ability of Prince George’s County and the state of Maryland to maintain our joint commitment to address the healthcare needs of our residents.”
The act has been introduced in the House of Delegates and assigned to the Appropriations committee, which has Del. Tawanna Gaines (D-22) as its vice-chair. The committee had already been working on the House version of the bill, she said, which received a favorable recommendation, also on March 2, by a 21-to-3 vote. The second reading and debate in the full House was set for March 8.
Gaines also explained her reasoning for supporting the bill.
“Back in the late (19)70s and early ‘80s, every hospital was given assistance in upgrading their system,” she said. “Prince George’s County was the only one who created its own system. Now we’re thinking it’s important we move to the all-payer system (like the rest of the state) and get out of the hospital business.”
Gaines also questioned why it has taken Hogan so long to come up with a funding plan.
“I’m trying to understand what’s the delay,” she said. “He’s had since he was elected. We have 90 days to do $55 billion, and we can do that.”