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Md. regulators approve Laurel Hospital conversion

Laurel Regional Hospital

The Maryland Health Care Commission Thursday granted a historic exemption from certificate of need to University of Maryland Laurel Regional Hospital, which cleared a regulatory hurdle as it converts to a smaller-scale facility.

Laurel Regional Hospital became the first hospital to receive the exemption since the legislature passed a law in 2016 permitting these types of scaling-down projects in systems with multiple hospitals. University of Maryland Harford Memorial Hospital and University of Maryland Shore Medical Center at Dorchester have also applied for the exemption.

Under the 2016 legislation, hospitals within a system that has another hospital can downsize and build new free-standing medical facilities to replace the existing hospital. These facilities provide 24/7 emergency department services and can include other outpatient treatment options but do not have the inpatient services hospitals offer.

By gaining an exemption, hospitals do not have to go through a lengthier and more exhaustive certificate of need process that can take more than a year. Laurel’s exemption application went from submission to approval in five months.

The new $53 million Laurel facility will have emergency services, outpatient surgical and other outpatient services. It will include 24-hour emergency department treatment spaces, a trauma room, two triage rooms, 10 observation beds and two operating rooms. The new facility is expected to open in 2021.

Part of the conversion requirements include the necessity of a “mother” hospital within the same medical system that can handle other outpatient procedures and more complex inpatient care. For the Laurel facility, that hospital will be University of Maryland Prince George’s Hospital Center until the new University of Maryland Capital Region Medical Center opens in Largo, currently expected in March 2021.

The University of Maryland Capital Region Health medical system also operates a free-standing medical facility in Bowie, but the Laurel facility will be the first to convert from a hospital. The Maryland Health Care Commission staff believed the system may have been optimistic in its patient projections and created more treatment rooms than it will need, but they also acknowledged that the conversion is a novel experience.

“We have to be honest in saying we don’t really know how a transition of this type will operate,” Paul E. Parker, the commission’s director of health care facilities planning and development, told the commission.

Laurel’s initial decision to close and become an ambulatory facility drew concerns from the community. But by the time the hospital submitted its exemption application, the project had gained community support, including from Laurel Mayor Craig Moe.

Children’s Hospital surgical center gains approval

The commission also granted a certificate of need to Children’s Hospital to create an outpatient surgical facility in Prince George’s County.

The ambulatory surgical facility will have two operating rooms and is part of a greater Children’s Hospital project to create an outpatient center in Glenarden, including the consolidation of two smaller offices in Laurel and Upper Marlboro.

Much of the volume for this surgical facility is expected to come from Children’s National in Washington. The transfer of the outpatient surgical cases to the Prince George’s facility is expected to reduce wait times at the hospital and allow it to focus on more complex cases.

A similar outpatient center exists in Montgomery County.

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