Everyone agrees that Prince George’s County needs a new hospital. Like the old D.C. General in neighboring District of Columbia, Dimensions Healthcare seems to have outlived its purpose and usefulness.

For years it has served a wide population of indigent patients who without it would not have any kind of healthcare. The hospital was among the top healthcare centers for trauma treatment while under the leadership of the late Dr. Willie Blair, widely recognized as one of the best surgeons in the nation.

Bruce Branch (Courtesy Photo)
Bruce Branch (Courtesy Photo)

But times in the healthcare business have changed. Dimensions, faced with mounting debts, has been a source of controversy for the past 10 years. Some want to close it and others, including the Baker Administration, want to build a state of the art facility that would be the envy of the region. The proposed $543 million regional medical center in Largo, that will be owned by the University of Maryland Medical Center, would replace Prince George’s Hospital Center which has served the county for more than 50 years.

The Maryland Healthcare Commission approved the certificate of need application for the hospital which includes 205 acute-inpatient beds and offer services available at the current hospital including a 15-bed special pediatric unit at Mount Washington Pediatric Hospital, part of the current hospital center complex. The project is to be financed by $127 million in new debt, $208 million from the county and $208 million from the state of Maryland. It is scheduled to open in 2020 bringing, if done right, jobs and contracts to the county.

The plan sounded good until politics got into play.

Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, running for re-election next year against Prince George’s County Executive Rushern T. Baker III, is in no hurry to do any favors for a man trying to take his job. Baker is banking on the clout of Sen. Thomas V. Mike Miller (D-Md.) and a strong Democratic Legislature to bring him through.

A wise man once said “He who has the gold has the power,” and last month Hogan exerted that power by approving $15 million for the 700,000-square foot hospital for the next fiscal year as part of a plan that calls for investing $55 million over five years to maintain the current system and help with the transition to a new regional medical center.

Hogan weighed the political winds and put the money in his supplemental budget, a fact not lost on his Democratic adversaries. Hogan is no dummy. He is not about to allow Baker to take credit for another successful building project when they are going to be likely facing off in the political ring in the very near future. Without a substantial amount of state money, Hogan knows the project will likely be delayed – at least until after the election and without the project, it will put another chink in Baker’s thinning armor.

“It’s been a long sad story about the Prince George’s Hospital System, and this we believe is a tremendous solution to decades of problems there,” Hogan said at a news conference with University of Maryland Medical System (UMMS) leadership. “There’s no group that’s more capable in my opinion of doing a turnaround of the Prince George’s County Hospital System than UMMS.”

For years, the state has funded the hospital to keep the system functioning and out of bankruptcy, the governor said, adding that the state can’t act as a perpetual backstop for the hospital. Hogan said he believed the partnership with UMMS would provide a lasting solution for health care in a county with a population of about 890,000, second largest in the state behind Baltimore.

“Throughout the ups and downs of this process, we remained steadfast to our mission of improving healthcare delivery in Prince George’s County and the [Regional Medical Center] was vital component of our plan,” Baker said in a statement. “In addition to Prince George’s County, it will serve southern Maryland. This Regional Medical Center will improve healthcare options and outcomes in Prince George’s County and has already begun to spur transit-oriented economic development around the Largo Metro station. We are confident it will be the anchor of ‘Downtown Largo’ attracting brand new retail, residential, office space, and other transit-oriented development.”