Proposed White Oak hospital would injure Prince George's health care, official says
County lawmakers are rethinking support for Washington Adventist's relocation
Prince George's County Council members are reconsidering their support for a hospital being built just over the county line in White Oak, a site described as a rival to Prince George's health facilities.
"Under no scenario do we see this as a positive thing," said Kenneth Glover, CEO of Dimensions Healthcare System, the nonprofit organization that operates three hospitals in Prince George's County.
During a briefing with Prince George's delegates Friday in Annapolis, Glover warned that Adventist HealthCare's plans to build a 281-bed hospital near the county line would draw away insured patients who come to Dimensions' health centers in Laurel, Cheverly and Bowie.
Washington Adventist Hospital, which is owned by Adventist HealthCare and located in Takoma Park, would move to the new site, a $468 million facility off Plum Orchard Drive that will include an emergency room and outpatient care facilities. Adventist HealthCare is currently waiting for the Maryland Health Care Commission to approve a certificate of need, the last major hurdle before construction.
Last year, the County Council signed a letter endorsing Adventist HealthCare's plans, though Chairwoman Ingrid Turner (D-Dist. 4) of Bowie said the nine-member group which now has five new members is reconsidering given the potential impact on hospitals in the county.
"There's a facility coming within five miles of Laurel Hospital. Imagine what that will do," Glover told leaders. "The question is does it improve health care in Prince George's County?"
An Adventist HealthCare spokesman said the new hospital is essential for long-term growth, as it would bring an additional 1,000 jobs to the region, allow relocation to an area that is not as remote as the current site and provide room for outpatient care.
"Our status quo is not sustainable in the long term," said Adventist HealthCare's Robert Jepson, vice president of government relations and public policy. "Washington Adventist needs to build a 21st century facility."
The hospital submitted its application in spring 2009. Paul Parker, chief of Hospital Services Policy and Planning for the Maryland Health Care Commission, said the group is currently reviewing the hospital's application, which has been formally opposed by Dimensions, and Holy Cross and Montgomery General hospitals in Montgomery County. Parker said a commissioner will determine as soon as this month whether to hear arguments for the project before making a recommendation to the full group.
Jepson said Washington Adventist does not intend to lure patients away from Dimensions, but is instead moving to the center of its own service area that straddles both counties. From September 2009 to September 2010, more than 44 percent of the 17,507 patients admitted to the hospital were from Prince George's County. Montgomery County residents made up 41 percent, and 2,522 were from Washington, D.C., and other areas.
"A weakened Washington Adventist hospital weakens the health care safety net for the future," Jepson said. "We're seeking to serve the same patients we always have."
In January, the commission rejected Adventist HealthCare's request to build a new hospital in Clarksburg, a decision Adventist HealthCare is appealing.
"I have concluded that Adventist HealthCare's priority over the next few years must be assuring the long-term viability of Washington Adventist Hospital," said Maryland Health Care Commission Chairwoman Marilyn Moon in her recommendation for a denial of a certificate of need for Adventist's plan to build a new hospital in Clarksburg. "This task, critical to restoring Adventist HealthCare to robust financial health, is large enough that it should not be put at risk by simultaneously attempting to establish a new hospital."
Lawmakers said they will follow the issue closely.
"We have to look at it closely and deal with the implications for all our facilities," said Del. Anne Healey (D-Dist. 22) of Hyattsville.
Though it is the largest medical provider in the county, Dimensions Healthcare has been in financial trouble for years, largely because roughly 25 percent of its patients are uninsured. In recent years, Prince George's and the state have each paid roughly $15 million per each year to keep the centers functioning.
Adventist HealthCare officials plan a "continued dialogue" with county officials as the project proceeds.
"We look forward to it," Jepson said. "We are very transparent in our plans about what we're trying to do."
Glover, who took over Dimensions in the fall, acknowledged that his warnings come late in the process.
"In the past, we have not been as open or direct," he said. "But we will be."
Staff Writer C. Benjamin Ford contributed to this report.
Correction: the original version of this story gave the wrong location for the hospital. It is in White Oak. Also, the hospital plan came from Adventist HealthCare.