Laurel Regional Hospital (LRH) will remain open through 2017 and likely beyond.

That news is according to state and local elected officials, who joined with representatives of the University of Maryland Medical System (UMMS) and Dimensions Healthcare System in July to announce a broad plan to transform health care in Prince George’s County.

According to a UMMS letter summarizing the details, the plan is contingent on Dimensions receiving a certificate of need for a new, $655 million regional health care center in Largo. It also foresees Dimensions becoming a subsidiary of UMMS, giving UMMS ultimate control of Dimensions’ operations and governance. The transition, expected within 90 days of the certificate’s issuance, requires approval by Prince George’s County government.

As part of the agreement orchestrated by Laurel Mayor Craig Moe and the city council with the county executive and the leadership of Dimensions and UMMS, Laurel Regional Hospital (LRH) will remain open with all existing services through December 2017.

In the meantime, a Strategic Planning Working Group will engage the community to provide input allowing the group to assess needs and recommend a plan for the hospital beyond 2019. Among those recommendations is the question of whether a new facility should be built or if the existing LRH campus will be renovated.

“We’re 180 degrees from where we were a year ago,” said State Sen. Jim Rosapepe, who represents Laurel and many of the communities affected by Dimensions’ previous plans to close the hospital and transform it into an ambulatory care center. “We would not be here today but for the leadership of … the mayor and City Council of Laurel.”

Partners in Care

With 12 hospitals and 25,000 employees, UMMS is the largest hospital system in Maryland.

“Partnership is in our DNA,” said UMMS President and CEO Robert Chrencik. He said his organization is prepared to pay the same close attention to local dynamics and market differentiations as it has with other community hospital acquisitions, and credited Dimensions with working to help align the organizations.

“Much of the focus of this project has been around the new regional medical center … for a good reason,” Chrencik said, adding that the approval process is nearing completion. “It’s remarkable that a county with 900,000 people would not have a world-class medical center.”

The new Largo hospital would bring state-of-the-art, academic-level medicine to the county and also improve health care access for residents in its southernmost parts.

“Although we haven’t yet defined exactly what the future Laurel health care campus would look like, I can promise you that, when it is redesigned, it’s going to have a tremendous eye toward access for care and convenience for the citizens and neighbors of [Laurel],” Chrencik said.

In addition to LRH, UMMS also will take over the Prince George’s Hospital Center in Cheverly and the Bowie Health Center, both part of the Dimensions system.

First Step Forward

Alleging a history of mismanagement and poor financial stewardship, Dimensions’ foes have long been at odds with the organization’s policies, decisions and lack of transparency.

“Most know how I felt about the route Dimensions was taking,” Moe said. “I’m very pleased with what we’re seeing and hearing: Dimensions will be phased out and a world-class hospital will be moved in.”

“The design of a new Laurel hospital will be through an open, collaborative process, not a secret meeting in a back room,” Rosapepe said, cautioning that certain expectations will obviously be driven by issues, finances and needs, as well as dynamic changes and trends in health care delivery.

“We expect to come up with a plan for a high tech, high-touch, 21st century hospital,” he said. “That is what this community deserves, and that is what UMMS is committed to.”

Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker rebuffed questions as to whether the county’s own relationship with Dimensions had soured.

“It’s a partnership,” he said. “Had they not brought in the spending and showed that they could actually save some money, we wouldn’t be in a position [today] where the state would give us money or UMMS would want to partner with us. Moving forward, the main thing we want to do is ensure there’s quality health care throughout, and this is the step forward.”

Meeting Diverse Needs

Prince George’s Councilwoman Mary Lehman, who represents Laurel, said her hope is that LRH remains a full-service hospital with inpatient beds.

“One of my biggest concerns is psychiatric care,” she said, citing a history of depression in her own family and the significant needs of the area’s homeless.

“A lot of people pass through this area because it is the nexus of four counties and halfway between Washington and Baltimore,” Lehman said. “They’re in need of psychiatric services and some inpatient psychiatric services, they need care and beds. I’m very optimistic that we will end up with a modernized hospital that meets the needs of northern Prince George’s County and the four-county area.”

UMMS Surgeon-in-Chief Dr. Steve Bartlett has been assigned to head up the Strategic Planning Work Group. After the group’s work is complete, “It’s expected that LRH and the medical campus will offer enhanced emergency medical care,” said Moe.

Subject to feasibility analyses, he said, the expectation for clinical services includes modern operating rooms, overnight observation beds, lab services and medical offices offering pediatric services, maternal and child health, geriatric care, diabetes care, palliative health, urgent care and a revamp of community volunteer programming.

Economic Development, Too

Baker acknowledged that Laurel would set the example for the Cheverly hospital center, a planned clinic in Suitland, and for existing clinics in Fort Washington, Accokeek and other communities.

“Without your input, the [planning team] will use their best guess,” Baker told the assembled community. “If we get it right here, we’re going to get it right throughout the county, and I have every faith in the world that you’re going to get it right.”

Chrencik predicted that rebranding LRH would result in bringing doctors and patients who have abandoned the hospital back through its doors.

“We’ve done this all across the state,” he said. “We’re quite skilled with bringing community groups, like LRH, into our organization, reshaping the delivery of care and rebranding it University of Maryland. It signals [to] the market that [the] world-class health care of the university is here.”

Nothing is off the table in terms of hospital services, Rosapepe said, while Chrencik confirmed that the working group will examine both existing services that have been closed, as well as services such as the maternity ward.

“It’s a chance to really step back and reexamine what is needed here, and bring the best that we can bring,” Chrencik said.

Despite Dimensions’ argument to the contrary, “this hospital can make financial sense,” he said. “It’s in a very good location, and there’s plenty of opportunity here. Dimensions and Laurel should be doing much better than they’ve done. Remember, if you have inpatient beds you need to fill them, and that’s been a problem here. Those are things we’ll sort out.”

Moe advised that the new agreement could also provide an economic development boost for the region.

“There is property up there that needs to be developed for [related patient] medical services that is long overdue and should have been developed long ago,” he said. “We need to continue to look at that, and it’s one of the things that I’ll attempt to move forward.”