The road to a new hospital and improved health care in Prince George’s County paved with obstacles, according to a University of Maryland School of Public Health study released today that estimated just how far the county is from meeting the needs of its residents.

While things may be pointing in the right direction, the county is still several years away from a new health facility. John Ashworth, senior vice president network development at the University of Maryland Medical System, said it would be several more months before officials are set on the cost of a new hospital, which will be the endgame of a new robust health system.

“We are involved in doing things in a very deliberate and paced way with Dimensions Health System,” Ashworth said. “You can’t go from 0 to 100 if you build a regional health center. You’ve got to go from 0 to 20 to 30 to 40 before you can get to a regional health center.”

Ashworth said that process means the county must upgrade its primary care network as the lack of quality care is detrimental to the way the county delivers health service. Among the most dire needs is closing the primary care physician gap with other regions. At just 53.9 physicians per 100,000 residents, the county lags far behind Montgomery County, which has 94.9 physicians per 100,000 residents, and Baltimore City, which has 101.2 physicians per 100,000 residents.

Officials are hoping to attract 61 new primary care physicians to join a new health network that will also see an increased number of cardiac surgeons, dentists and a revamped ambulatory network.

At the top of the list of health care dilemmas is obesity, the report said noting that an estimated 70 percent of county residents are obese or overweight, even though only five percent of those had actually been told that they were.

“There’s a real connection between life and longevity based on overweight and obesity and these are things we can prevent” said Steven Thomas, director of the Maryland Center for Health Equity and School of Public Health. “No new healthcare system can face the burden of this problem.”

According to officials, given the many issues facing the county’s healthcare system, health care delivery is in need of revision. And the county government’s delivery system should be on that list, too, the report said.

“The county health department is actually being reorganized to being more responsive to the new direction of healthcare; not so much focus on service delivery, but to do the kind of outreach that public health demands,” said Betty Hager Frances, deputy chief administrative officer for the Health, Human Services and Education in Prince George’s. “We’ve been more proactive in seeking federally qualified health centers to come into the county, getting more dentists active and activating mobile health for schools.

Before a new hospital can be built a certificate of need must be signed. Officials say they hope to have that from the health department by spring 2013 with the hopes of a new medical center being up and running by 2017. Officials have amended original plans for a hospital with 330 beds to one with 278 with the hopes of a new healthcare system providing more preventative care.

George Barnette

Special to the AFRO