ANNAPOLIS – Leaders in both the state House of Delegates and Senate have introduced a measure that would require the governor to provide funding for the operation and construction of a new regional medical center in Prince George’s County.
The Prince George’s Regional Medical Center Funding Act of 2016 was submitted by Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller (D-27) and Speaker of the House Michael Busch (D-Anne Arundel County) to their respective chambers last week, and both bills are scheduled for their first committee hearings in early February.
The bill mandates the governor’s operating budget proposals until Fiscal Year (FY) 2021 include money for the medical center. The FY17, FY18 and FY19 budgets would have to include $15 million, with $30 million in FY18 if the funds are not provided in FY17, and the budgets for FY20 and FY21 would each need to include $5 million. Additionally, the capital budget would have to include $45 million for the construction of the new regional medical center in Largo in FY17, $90 million in FY18 and $8 million in FY19. The act would only be valid if the medical center’s governance is transferred from Dimensions Healthcare System to the University of Maryland Medical System (UMMS), and only if that occurs by Dec. 31, 2016.
The Senate Budget and Taxation Committee held its hearing on the bill on Feb. 3, and County Executive Rushern Baker III attended the session to testify on behalf of the measure. The Prince George’s County Council has also gone on the record supporting the bill. At its Feb. 2 meeting, the council voted to approve a letter to Miller expressing its support of the mandated funding. A copy of that letter was not made available to The Sentinel by press time.
The previous week, on Jan. 29, Baker and members of his staff had attended a meeting of the Prince George’s County House delegation, where they also voiced their belief in the necessity of finalizing the funding arrangements for the hospital.
“We’re ready to get going and start building a hospital that will be the anchor of improving our health care system,” said Tom Himler, deputy chief administrative officer for budget, economic development, finance and administration. “We’ve been doing this for five years. The state itself as an entity has been a partner to this, and that’s where we’re frustrated.”
There had been an agreement between the state of Maryland, the county, and the two health care entities involved in process, Dimensions and UMMS, detailing a funding plan. That agreement, in the form of a Memorandum of Understanding, was reached in July 2011, under Gov. Martin O’Malley. But in his FY17 budget, current Gov. Larry Hogan did not include any funding for the operating expenses of the hospital. The capital budget does include $27.5 million towards the facility’s construction, but county representatives say that is not enough and are requesting Hogan release an additional $15 million that had previously been bookmarked for the project, as well as money towards operations.
“Right now, with the surplus the state has, there’s no reason for it not to release that $15 million,” Baker told the delegation. “While the capital funds were welcome, (the operating funds are) the important part. You’re not going to get to building a hospital if you don’t have the hospital itself.
“The agreement was not made with Gov. O’Malley. It was between the state of Maryland, Dimensions and Prince George’s County.”
Delegate Angela Angel (D-25) agreed with Baker.
“The ability to even transition (to UMMS) will be severely halted if we don’t guarantee the funding,” Angel said. “It’s a really important bill and it’s one of the things I’m glad the speaker stepped up and is taking action to support Prince George’s County.”
Angel also noted this is the second year Hogan has stripped hospital funding from his budget proposal.
“There’s not a lot of good reasoning behind it,” she said. “You almost feel like it is political and you can’t play politics with people’s lives.”
Others in the delegation expressed similar sentiments at the meeting on Jan. 28, with Del. Carolyn Howard (D-24) noting, “Elections have consequences.”
Delegate Erek Barron (D-24) said, "I can’t tell you the number of constituents who have reached out to me to urge me to support this medical center and for updates about the project. We have a need for a quality health-care facility in the region. This is not political. This is a necessity to the residents of Prince George’s County."
On the other side of the issue, Hogan spokesmen have said the bill is premature, coming only 10 days into session when there is still plenty of time to work through the budget. Additionally, one of Hogan’s stated goals is to reduce the amount of mandated spending with which governors in the state have to comply. This measure would instead add an additional spending mandate.
There is still the possibility Hogan could include additional money for the hospital in a supplemental budget. Baker said he hoped Hogan would do so, without the need of this bill is forcing his hand.
Angel expressed confidence the bill would pass both houses.
The bills have been co-sponsored by the entire Prince George’s County delegation. For the Senate version, Democrats from across the state also signed on, for a total of 29 sponsors, enough to override a gubernatorial veto.
But Angel, too, said ideally, the governor would release the funds on his own.
“That’s something you do have to do. You honor the commitments that have been given when you enter into office,” she said. “I think that’s not unreasonable to ask.”