Faced with 24,000 residents who are leaving Prince George’s County annually to seek medical treatment, Maryland officials Wednesday unveiled plans to improve the county’s health care system and build a $600 million regional hospital to replace Prince George’s Hospital Center.
Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown was joined by Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III and officials from the University of Maryland Medical System, Dimensions Health Care, the University of Maryland School of Public Health and government officials at the Prince George’s hospital to discuss the plans, as well as the findings of a health care analysis.
The new hospital system will have 278 beds. Officials had projected a hospital with 330 beds, but that number has dropped due to a simultaneous effort to increase primary care availability.
That would mean the proposed hospital would see sicker patients, John W. Ashworth III, senior vice president for network development for UMMS and associate dean of the University of Maryland School of Medicine, said Monday at a press briefing in anticipation of Wednesday’s announcement.
“It’s a bit of a different hospital,” he said.
A July 2011 memorandum of understanding laid out a plan for the collaboration between UMMS and Dimensions Healthcare, the company that runs the Prince George’s Hospital System. The memorandum set forth plans for the construction of a new hospital and for the improvement of Dimensions’ facilities.
UMMS plans to submit a certificate of need to the Maryland Health Care Commission, the state’s hospital regulatory agency, in the spring of 2013, though that date could move to the fall. Officials said they expect to complete financial projections, or pro formas, in October. They have not selected a site for the new center.
The hospital’s infrastructure will be able to accommodate additional beds.
“If we’re successful, it will breed success,” Ashworth said. “There could be the chance that we could have a demand that goes all the way up to 360 beds.”
That would depend on the revamped health system’s ability to draw residents back into the county. For example, about 700 people are leaving the county for cardiac procedures each year. The new facility could bring 300 to 350 of those people back to the county, Ashworth said.
The hospital is expected to open in 2017 and to be profitable in two years.
The Prince George’s County Health System has relied on support from the state and county in recent years to avoid deficits, bankruptcy and even closure of its facilities. In 2008, the state and Prince George’s County committed $150 million in operating funds over five years and $24 million in capital funds over three years to the system.
In an effort that coordinates the new hospital system with improved primary care and public health outreach, the county will put in place other medical services prior to the proposed new hospital.
Much of that will come from the recommendations of a county health assessment completed this month by the University of Maryland School of Public Health.
The study surveyed 1,001 county residents and 40 stakeholders on the state, county and local levels.
The study found that by 2020, the existence of an academically affiliated medical center, strong primary care network and integrated public health network could reduce emergency department visits for asthma, diabetes and hypertension by 16 percent, as well as save more than 340 lives annually by preventing cancer and heart disease.
Sixty-nine percent of county residents surveyed were either overweight or obese based on a body mass index calculation. That condition leads to greater risk for other chronic health issues such as diabetes, heart disease and hypertension.
The study also found that the county was short 61 primary care physicians and 31 dentists based on a national standard of a 1-to-2,000 provider-to-population ratio.
The county has a population of about 871,000 and has 456 primary care physicians and 470 dentists.
The proposed new hospital system will add 14 primary care physicians in the areas of highest need, which are the southern part of the county and inside the beltway, according to the School of Public Health’s study.
Improvements are also planned at Laurel Regional Hospital and Bowie Health Campus.
UMMS has already taken over some responsibilities at the facilities. It took over emergency room operations at Laurel Regional Hospital July 1. It is expected to begin managing emergency services at the Prince George’s Hospital Center in Cheverly in August, as well as at the Bowie Health Center in 2013.
The timing of the health care revamp in Prince George’s County is aligned with a statewide effort to converge access to health care and public health services, said Joshua M. Sharfstein, secretary of the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
It also comes as the state moves forward with health care reforms as outlined in the Affordable Care Act, upheld June 28 by the Supreme Court.
“We expect a large number of individuals in Prince George’s County to qualify for heavily subsidized coverage on the exchange, and that will provide a big financial incentive for clinicians to move in further into the county,” Sharfstein said.
The law requires states to establish new health insurance markets called exchanges, which are supposed to be running on Jan. 1, 2014, and allows states to opt into expanded Medicaid coverage.
The proportion of patients without insurance or using Medicaid at the Prince George’s Hospital Center is significantly higher than the state average. In 2004, for example, 49.9 percent of inpatient cases were Medicaid recipients or self-paying patients, compared to 22.5 percent statewide.