Years of financial troubles and dysfunction have taken a toll on Dimensions Healthcare System in Prince George’s County and the facilities it operates, which include Laurel Regional Hospital (LRH).
The operation suffered another setback this year with the loss of CEO Ken Glover, who was appointed to the position in 2010 by then-County Executive Jack Johnson. Glover resigned in February after an internal probe determined he discussed repayment of Johnson’s favor with the award of a lucrative consulting position in the hospital system.
Johnson, meanwhile, has been incarcerated for corruption stemming from an unrelated pay-to-play scheme involving developers.
Through it all, Dimensions has managed to survive, narrowly escaping a state-sponsored sell-off of its assets last year. It emerged instead with a Memorandum of Understanding that, properly executed, will result in an affiliation with the University of Maryland Medical System (UMMS).
For the moment, it seems, the primary focus at Dimensions may finally be moving more toward operations and improvement strategy and away from damage control.
Speaking at an April work session of Laurel’s mayor and city council, Dimensions COO John O’Brien said the hospital system has been working to develop programs that will allow it to tap into UMMS resources.
Dimensions is currently working toward an agreement with the University concerning the types of programs that can best help the county improve its medical expertise and provide a range of services to county residents.
“Over the past few months we have implemented an extension of the University’s Orthopedics Program,” O’Brien said. “We have benefited from the trauma faculty at Prince George’s for some time now, and we are about to tap into that expertise for critical care and for anesthesiology.”
The next major step will be a changeover to university physicians for the county’s three emergency medical departments, one of the largest of which is located in Laurel.
“We will begin a transition to convert the physicians in those practices to university physicians, beginning with the Laurel operation on July 1,” O’Brien said, before moving on to the Bowie Health Campus six months later and ultimately completing the process at the Prince George’s Hospital Center in Cheverly.
Two new programs — the Sleep Wellness Center and the Wound Care & Hyperbaric Medicine Center, both at Laurel — exemplify the leading types of programs Dimensions hopes to develop with the co-sponsorship of the University of Maryland.
“The next aspects of that affiliation have to do with construction of a new Regional Medical Center to replace the acute care capabilities of the Hospital Center at Cheverly,” O’Brien said.
Additional capital improvements are in the works for the Bowie campus and for LRH. According to O’Brien, Maryland’s Secretary of Health and Mental Hygiene Joshua Scharfstein has made expansion of primary care capabilities a high priority of the system’s university affiliation.
“We look forward to … [learning] just how much capital investment and how much service investment there would be to expand primary care and related subspecialty services in Laurel,” O’Brien said. “We are sure they will raise the overall level of service, quality of health care and access to services available to people in Laurel within the next year.”
Leadership changes have been effected as well. In March, Dimension’s board of directors announced the selection of Neil Moore as the organization’s new president and CEO. Moore had served in this role on a temporary basis since December and previously served as interim president of LRH.
In his role as LRH chairman, Laurel City Councilman Fred Smalls (Ward 2) is now leading the search for a new hospital president.
Under Moore’s leadership, O’Brien said, Dimensions has improved its financial and cash management, expanded the physician and ambulatory service network and achieved substantial insurance premium reductions through better quality and risk management.
“We have made significant progress in the last year and will continue to do so in the coming months,” he said.
Laurel Mayor Craig Moe is among those who consider LRH an important part of the city and a critical piece of its economic development efforts.
With 130 beds, 640 employees and a payroll of $40 million, 70% of the hospital’s employees live in the greater Laurel tri-county area, O’Brien said.
Moe reminded the council that LRH also stands to benefit from a 2008 commitment shared by the state and county to provide $24 million in system-wide capital funding over three years, to take effect upon an agreement to transfer the county hospital system to a new owner.
“We want to make sure that money comes back to the system as well as to the hospital here in Laurel,” said Moe, who has extended an offer to host a community forum to solicit ideas for projects that would improve the hospital and address the greatest needs.
Despite the background noise of Dimensions’ long-existing internal crisis, LRH has managed to maintain and even improve the quality of care it provides, Moe said.
Council President Donna Crary (Ward 2) agreed that the hospital has a good reputation and sometimes doesn’t receive the credit it deserves.
“A former judge from this county was recently flown in from Florida for wound care here,” she said. “Apparently, it’s ranked [among] the best in the nation.”
“We are on the verge of some really great things,” Smalls said. “Our search for a new president is going to begin to lead the way to what I think are going to be some real changes in the community. We have challenges, as any hospital does, but I think our management, clinical and technical staff are all poised to move our hospital forward.”