Maryland and Prince George's County leaders have expressed concern with Gov. Larry Hogan's proposed fiscal 2019 state budget, which would defer millions in funding for the new University of Maryland Capital Region Medical Center in Largo.
Slated to open in March 2021, the Capital Region Medical Center is a partnership between the county, the state and the University of Maryland Medical System. The center is under construction at Largo Town Center and will replace the Prince George's Hospital Center in Cheverly.
All three parties agreed to support one-third of the $624 million in capital funding required to build the center, said Mark Wasserman, vice president of external affairs for the University of Maryland Medical System, but the state is lagging behind.
While the county and medical system will finish financing their shares before the end of this year, Wasserman said, the state is about halfway short of its $208 million commitment.
Last year, the Maryland General Assembly mandated that the governor allocate $48 million in funding for the hospital in fiscal 2019 and $56 million in fiscal 2020 to complete the funding.
In his proposed budget, however, Hogan proposed just $19 million in capital funding for fiscal 2019, $29 million short of the General Assembly's plan. He can do so through the Budget Reconciliation and Financing Act, which allows him to adjust and redirect mandated funds.
Wasserman said he expects the state will meet its commitment, however, "it's a matter of when."
"For this to be stretched out, it represents a bit of a challenge to us," Wasserman said. "Not one that's insurmountable, but having cash in hand is always better than being put in a position to wait."
Tom Himler, budget chief for County Executive Rushern Baker, described Hogan's delays as "moving the goal line."
This isn't the first time Hogan has reallocated state capital funding for the Capital Region Medical Center. Himler said Hogan was initially granted funding flexibility for fiscal 2018, in which the state provided just $11.3 million instead of the mandated $67 million. The remainder was pushed back into fiscal 2020.
"We went along with it last year, but we didn't sign up to keep doing this every single year," Himler said. "If you're committed to something you're committed to it, you don't just keep changing the law because it shows that you're really not fully committed."
Eric Shirk, spokesman for the Maryland Department of Budget and Management, wrote in an email on Friday saying Hogan's administration is appropriately funding the project.
“This year alone, the Hogan administration is investing more than $36 million into this hospital, bringing the four-year total to more than $100 million,” Shirk wrote. “Governor Hogan continues to support this project and will fund it at the appropriate level.”
Himler said it is unlikely deferring funds until 2021 would have a significant effect on the medical center's timeline for completion, however, future deferrals could be problematic. He added that he is actively working with leadership in Annapolis to achieve funding certainty.
Maryland Senate President Mike Miller called the medical center "the most amazing project in the history of Prince George's County" and expressed dissatisfaction with Hogan's desire to defer funding again.
Both he and Hogan attended the groundbreaking for the hospital last year, he said.
"It's a breach of trust for somebody to participate in a groundbreaking then withhold funds that had been previously committed," Miller said. "It's a hospital that the people of Prince George's County have yearned for and prayed for many years."
Wasserman called the partnership "unprecedented," adding that the agreement was a response to the declining conditions of the Prince George's Hospital Center, the Laurel Regional Hospital and the Bowie Health Center — formerly known collectively as the Dimensions Healthcare System. The University of Maryland Medical System acquired Dimensions Health in September, and renamed it University of Maryland Capital Region Health. They broke ground on the new hospital in November.
"You had a facility which was running deficits, nowhere close to being state of the art, with a mission that wasn't being met," Wasserman said about Dimensions Healthcare System. "It had largely evolved into a last-resort hospital for people with limited means."
The main tower of the new hospital will feature 11 levels, eight operating rooms and two rooftop helipads, according to the hospital's website.
Many county residents leave the area for their healthcare needs, Wasserman said.
"Prince George's County has almost a million people within its borders, and they need a hospital so that we don't have to go to Washington, D.C., or Baltimore for first-class medical care," Miller said.
The Capital Region Medical Center would allow county residents to access improved primary and ambulatory care, in addition to shock trauma, Miller said.
"We're going to make sure the state keeps its commitment," Miller said. "We're going to find a way to make certain the $29 million is restored, and the construction of this wonderful new facility stays on track."