Nurses Urge Accord to Save Pr. George's Hospital Center

  1. Council Objects to State Aid Plan, Due to Expire Tomorrow By Ovetta Wiggins
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Thursday, April 15, 2004; Page B04

    Dozens of Prince George's Hospital Center nurses and other employees rallied yesterday to urge county officials to quickly resolve their differences over the plan to rescue the financially troubled institution.

    With time running out on the state's offer to provide $15 million in assistance, the nurses said the stakes were enormous.

    "What is at stake is the future of this health system and access to quality, affordable health care for residents of Prince George's County," said Carol Bragg, president of the nurses union, who has worked at the hospital for 25 years.

    Meanwhile, Dimensions Healthcare Inc., the nonprofit operator of Prince George's Hospital Center, will ask a Circuit Court judge today to give it more time to find workers' compensation insurance. Last week, the State Workers' Compensation Commission revoked Dimensions' self-insured status for workers' compensation coverage.

    Without coverage, the hospital cannot operate.

    Hospital officials say that they will likely be able to obtain coverage but that it will cost at least $2 million a year more than they pay now.

    Bragg said she and other members of the union met with four County Council members Tuesday but didn't leave the meeting optimistic that the council would agree to a memorandum of understanding that Prince George's County Executive Jack B. Johnson (D) and Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) signed two months ago.

    That's not the signal Johnson gave Tuesday, when he said that he and the council were close to reaching an agreement.

    The pact signed by Johnson and Ehrlich called for $30 million in county money over five years. Ehrlich agreed to clear the way for a $5 million state bond to pay for capital improvements and to give the go-ahead for a 3 percent rate increase that would generate $10 million this year.

    Last month, the council voted to oppose the pact and said it would not appropriate money unless changes were made to the agreement. After an impasse of nearly a month, Johnson agreed to meet with council leadership Monday to discuss the council's suggested changes.

    The council wants an oversight panel created by the agreement to include two seats filled by the council. Johnson has named one council member to the panel.

    Council members also want a council liaison to the oversight panel; a cap of $2 million on funds for a "turnaround team," which will advise the oversight committee on management; assurances that union contracts will not be affected by the team; and copies of unedited materials from the review process given to the council.

    In a conference call Monday with Johnson and council Chairman Tony Knotts (D-Temple Hills) to discuss the oversight panel, state health secretary Nelson Sabatini agreed to change the board's composition. Under the compromise, the council would be allowed to select a voting member to the panel and the governor would receive another seat on the seven-member body.

    "I'm assuming that based on the conversation that I had on Monday with the principals that we're in agreement," said Sabatini, who sent a letter last month warning the county that the state may pull out of the deal if the issues are not resolved by tomorrow.

    Bragg summed up how members of the hospital staff have felt over the last few months: "We feel like a ping-pong ball caught between the County Council, the county executive and the governor."
    2004 The Washington Post Company
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