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Opinion

Examiner Local Editorial: Pick Largo site for Prince George's County hospital

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Opinion,Local Editorial

Of the four sites Prince George's County is currently considering for its new teaching hospital and medical complex, only one makes economic sense. The Largo Town Center property is next to a Metro station and close to the Capital Beltway, which makes it accessible by both car and Metrorail. That feature alone should put it high on the list. And the Largo site has another major advantage: The county already owns most of the property.

The new hospital, which will replace the county-owned Prince George's Hospital Center in Cheverly, is to be financed by state and county taxpayers and run by the University of Maryland Medical System under a four-part deal signed last year. In return for expanded gambling at National Harbor, Gov. Martin O'Malley and the General Assembly agreed to provide $200 million.

The estimated cost of the new hospital has already jumped from $600 million to $650 million since last year -- almost a 10 percent increase, even as the number of beds has been reduced by nearly 20 percent, from 330 to 280. And there is still no agreement on who will absorb the $100 million in unfunded pensions and $50 million in bonded debt racked up by the company that currently runs P.G. Hospital.

Given these financial constraints, it makes no sense for the county to spend millions of dollars in land acquisition when it already owns 123 acres at the Largo site. This would send a message that the county is determined to keep a firm lid on costs, which it failed to do with the old hospital. Despite an annual $30 million state and county subsidy, the county-owned Cheverly hospital turned into a badly run clinic for the poor and uninsured, while an estimated 25,000 Prince George's County residents fled to other jurisdictions for medical treatment.

If the county is serious about bringing those patients back, it will spend its money on state-of-the-art medical technology, not on paying big landowners such as Ted Lerner, whose family owns another site under consideration at the now vacant Landover Mall.

The new hospital should be operationally self-sufficient by 2017, but Prince George's County taxpayers will ultimately foot the bill for $200 million in startup and construction costs -- the same amount pledged by the state. By selecting the Largo site for the new hospital, county officials can assure them that they are getting the best value for their money.

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