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Ronald Peterson, President and CEO of Johns Hopkins Hospital. (File)

Report raises concerns about Md. hospital jobs proposal

Local hospitals want to hire about 1,000 entry-level workers from impoverished areas in Baltimore and throughout Maryland, but the state’s current method of funding hospitals could end up eliminating some of those jobs.

That’s one of the concerns raised by staffers at the state’s Health Services Cost Review Commission (HSCRC) in a preliminary report on the proposal. The report is scheduled to be presented to the commission at a meeting Wednesday.

“If health care transformation is successful, hospital usage should decline and there is concern that individuals in need of jobs might be employed in jobs that would be eliminated, thereby defeating the purpose of the Program,” staff wrote in the report, published on the commission’s website.

The report said staff was also concerned that to implement the program “considerable development needs to take place to plan, develop and execute these programs successfully.”

The program — known as the Health Job Opportunity Program — is the brainchild of Ronald Peterson, president of the Johns Hopkins Hospital and Health System, who asked the commission in September to allow hospitals to raise $40 million per year through an increase in rates. That money would then be used to hire about 1,000 new employees altogether.

While the program would not be limited to Baltimore, Peterson told the commission that the proposal was one way to help address the unemployment and income disparity in the city that contributed to the April riots.

“We believe we have something tangible that we can offer to give hope to many folks in the inner city of Baltimore in a relatively short period of time,” Peterson told the commission. He was joined at the September meeting by representatives of the University of Maryland Medical System and MedStar Health.

The proposal has received letters of support from several members of Maryland’s congressional delegation, the presiding officers of the Maryland General Assembly, Baltimore state Dels. Peter Hammen and Maggie McIntosh and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.

The proposal was referred to a commission workgroup, which discussed idea at a meeting in October.

Commission staff suggests three options for modifying the proposal, two of which involve setting aside a $5 million to $10 million pool of money targeted for infrastructure improvements to implement the jobs program. The third option is for the hospitals to continue designing the program, with funding options to be determined in 2016.

The commission agreed earlier this year to allow hospitals to apply this month for a .25 percent rate increase to fund infrastructure improvements, with applications due Dec. 1. Staff suggests money from that pool be earmarked for the jobs program.

Maryland’s global-budgeting system for its hospitals is a five-year experiment that began in January 2014. Hospitals’ annual revenue is now capped, offering a financial incentive for them to reduce costs and focus on preventive care to keep patients healthy and out of the hospital.