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New hospital planned for P.G. County

UPPER MARLBORO — A partnership among state and local leaders, educators and health care officials will bring a new hospital to Prince George’s County to revive the long-struggling public care system there.

The deal was announced Thursday, beginning a study process that could see a regional medical center and health sciences campus under construction in two years. That facility would be complemented by an ambulatory care network.

Both together could end decades of health care headaches for the county and state.

“This has been a long, frustrating process,” said Gov. Martin O’Malley, in making the announcement. “And we’re not to that goal line yet, but we believe we have a plan for moving forward to that goal line.”

The county’s health system includes Prince George’s Hospital Center in Cheverly, Laurel Regional Hospital, Bowie Health Campus and two nursing homes and is operated by Dimensions Healthcare System. Dogged by high numbers of uninsured patients, it has limped by on public aid.

State and county subsidies will total $30 million — $15 million each — in the fiscal year that began July 1. Officials intend to seek the same amount in each of the following three years.

But overhauling the system will cost much more, with much of the burden borne by the county and state.

A University of Maryland Medical System study estimated a $600 million price tag for the regional medical center, which would also serve Southern Maryland. The ambulatory system would cost more on top of that.

In addition, the county system has $200 million in unfunded pension liabilities.

“We know we that we have the challenge of financing, but we’re committed to work through that,” said Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, a Prince George’s resident.

Del. James E. Proctor Jr., vice chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, said the General Assembly could come up with the money.

“We’ve had a lot of challenges over the past three or four years, but we’re going to find this,” said the Prince George’s Democrat. “Don’t ask me where, but we’ll find it.”

The deal signed Thursday will launch representatives of the state and Prince George’s County governments, UMMS, Dimensions and the University System of Maryland on a series of studies of the county’s system, its health care needs, where to build a hospital and how to pay for it.

The process is expected to take 12 to 18 months and would end with the filing of a state application to build the hospital. The financing and management structure would have to be solidified at that point, said UMMS President and CEO Robert Chrencik.

“The hope would be the new facility would fold into UMMS,” he said.

State review can last up to six months, Chrencik said, and construction, two years. The facility could break even within two years after opening, he said.

“We envision this as a regional medical center, to have the scale and expertise to serve the entire Southern Maryland region,” Chrencik said. “The work that we’ve done so far indicates, in the long haul, we can create a medical system here that doesn’t require state and county assistance.”

Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker said UMMS, with its operational experience and medical experts, “will add instant credibility to a system that has struggled to sustain itself.”

The Prince George’s County Hospital Authority sought suitors for the system starting in 2008, but changed course when it became clear that simply selling the aging facilities would not cure the system’s ills.

The fate of the Dimensions-run facilities will be determined during the study, but officials vowed patients would not be left without access to care.

“No community will be abandoned as a result of the construction of this regional center,” Brown said.