ANNAPOLIS – In the wake of the failure of last minute negotiations on the future of the financially-troubled Prince George’s Hospital Center, Gov. Martin O’Malley said it appears “unavoidable” that the 276-bed hospital in Cheverly will have to close.
“This was our opportunity to do something,” O’Malley said of the intense efforts to reach an agreement with Prince George’s officials on a plan to save the hospital before the General Assembly session ended Monday night.
But because of the lack of agreement, O’Malley said Tuesday it would be “silly” to try to call the legislature back into session to deal with the issue.
As the talks appeared headed for failure late Monday night, O’Malley and his lieutenant governor, Anthony G. Brown, a former Prince George’s delegate, issued a statement saying that “an orderly closure appears unavoidable.”
But Prince George’s officials were not so sure.
County Executive Jack B. Johnson said Tuesday he remained hopeful that he could reach a consensus with the County Council that would keep the hospital open.
“There are opportunities on the table . . . we have to find some common ground,” Johnson told a news conference in Upper Marlboro. “I’m here to say we’re not throwing in the towel.”
Johnson said he wants to try to have the county fund the hospital for another year, an estimated $30 million by his account, and resume negotiations with the state during the next legislative session.
Talks apparently broke down over the Prince George’s Council’s refusal to commit itself to spending $170 million in county funds over the next eight years. Johnson said he and the governor had reached agreement, but that the Council had insisted on a term that he and O’Malley could not accept.
“I thought we were close to a deal as late as 10 p.m. last night,” O’Malley said Tuesday. “The sticking point as I understand it in the end was that the council was not willing to obligate future councils.”
O’Malley indicated he believed that until Johnson and the County Council can agree on a plan, there is little the state can do.
Camille Exum, chair of the Prince George’s Council, said in a statement Tuesday that the deal offered was an “unacceptable short-term fix which proposes to unfairly tax county citizens.”
G.T. Dunlop Ecker, President and CEO of Dimensions Healthcare System, which operates the county-owned hospital and four other medical facilities in Prince George’s, said Tuesday that he had decided to recommend closure. The hospital board has not made a final decision yet, but Ecker said he was planning for the hospital to shut down.
“I don’t know that there are any other alternatives available to us,” Ecker said while surrounded by a small and somber crowd of hospital employees, some dressed in scrubs and others in long white coats.
Dimensions Healthcare System board members are scheduled to meet on April 16 to decide whether to close the hospital or file for bankruptcy, according to Ecker. Bankruptcy is not a viable option, he said.
“Bankruptcy eats cash,” Ecker said, adding that the hospital only has about three to four days of cash on hand. “Bankruptcy does not generate cash.”
Ecker said the hospital would run out of money before the bankruptcy proceedings were over and called the move “just another route to closure.”
Delegate Veronica L. Turner, D-Prince George’s, said she received phone calls in the middle of the night on Monday from distraught hospital employees who feared they no longer had a job.
Dr. Carnell Cooper, director of trauma services at the hospital, described the mood among hospital employees as mournful.
“The mood is as if a family member has died,” Cooper said. “It’s like taking away their livelihood.”