Could PG hospital problems spread?

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Others also care for many uninsured
By M. William Salganik
Sun reporter

Originally published April 12, 2007
The plight of the public charity hospital is a familiar one around the country – struggling to care for the uninsured, surviving with hefty subsidies from local governments.

So there was a familiarity to the announcement this week that Prince George’s Hospital Center and other facilities in the Dimensions Healthcare System might shut down in 60 days because of a financial squeeze blamed on care for the uninsured.

What’s different, however, is that Maryland was supposed to have beaten the charity hospital problem, through a unique-in-the-country system that lets all hospitals bump up their rates to pay for uncompensated care.

Financially troubled Dimensions said Tuesday that it plans to shut down its two hospitals, outpatient center and nursing home after the Prince George’s County Council failed to agree to a rescue plan before the General Assembly adjourned. While expressing hope a deal could be reconstructed, state officials began yesterday to plan for the closing in a conference call with hospitals.

Beyond the immediate contingency planning to shift patients and find work for Dimensions’ 2,300-person work force, the situation raises the question of whether other hospitals caring for large numbers of uninsured – including several in Baltimore – might face similar problems.

The Dimensions problem is not an indication that Maryland’s system has failed, said Harold A. Cohen, the original director of the state’s rate-setting system. Cohen is now a consultant to insurers.

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