State leaders received a tour of surgical suites too small for modern technology and radiology equipment decades out of date at hospitals managed by Dimensions Healthcare Systems — a visit officials hope will encourage funding for changes to the medical system, to include a new $600 million facility in Prince George’s County.
Members of the House Appropriation Committee and state staffers toured Laurel Regional Hospital, Prince George’s Hospital Center in Cheverly and the Bowie Health Center Campus on Nov. 28 as health officials pointed out areas of need, such as additional beds and equipment.
Dimensions currently has more than 2,000 employees and cares for about 180,000 patients annually at multiple sites across the county, but has struggled financially due in part to a large number of uninsured patients. The hospital system receives about $30 million annually in a split of county and state funds to help cover operating costs. The system is also headed into the second half of a two-year capital grant supplying it with about $20 million for planned expansion and services improvements.
In 2011, a memorandum of understanding was established in which Dimensions, the University of Maryland Medical System, state government and Prince George’s County leaders agreed to work to improve the delivery of health care and rework the hospital system to make it self sufficient. The agreement has led to the system using physicians from the university medical system in its emergency rooms.
At Laurel Regional, the facility needs about $5.2 million, which would go to improving patient rooms and upgrading analog medical imaging equipment with newer digital equipment, said Jason Evans, Dimensions’ corporate director for imaging services.
“There is clear need here, and people are going elsewhere [because Dimensions lacks upgrades],” said John Spearman, Laurel Regional Hospital president.
Bowie Health Campus, a 24-hour emergency room, needs about $4.7 million according to a Dimensions report. With the site meeting its capacity of around 35,000 visits per year, internal remodeling at the site would help meet increasing demand by adding beds and equipment, said P. Thomas Lyons, campus director of emergency services.
All of these investments would support a new regional hospital center in the county, Dimension staffers said. While the exact cost of the new facility is still being determined, it is estimated it will cost about $600 million with the county and state government each paying about $200 million for its creation. The remaining third would be paid by a combination of either Dimensions, the University of Maryland Medical Systems or whatever healthcare entity might be created to take over the hospital.
“We have to plan for the future and the new facility, but we can’t abandon the existing facilities,” said Del. Jolene Ivey (D-Dist. 47) of Cheverly who leads the county’s House delegation. “It’s not like any money we invest now is wasted.”
Del. Tony McConkey (R-Dist.33A) of Severna Park questioned hospital officials on the need for a new hospital.
“If most of the need is within the Beltway, why not just expand this site [Prince George’s Hospital Center]?” McConkey said.
Renovating the existing hospital could be nearly as expensive as building a new one, said John Ashworth, senior vice president of network development for the University of Maryland Medical System.
While UMMS has been supplying doctors to the hospital system this year to bring the teaching hospital expertise to Dimensions, UMMS’ level of involvement in a new hospital has yet to be undetermined, Ashworth said. UMMS would be cautious about such a partnership if it could hurt the larger UMMS bond rating, Ashworth said. While Dimensions relies on grants from the government to remain solvent and has a B3 bond rating from Moody’s, UMMS has a higher A2 bond rating. Dimensions also carries around $100 million in unfunded pension benefits.
“We’re maintaining the integrity of the medical system,” Ashworth said. “We have to move cautiously.”