The Hogan administration on Wednesday withdrew an emergency procurement item from the Board of Public Works agenda that would have privatized certain health care services now taking place at the state-owned Western Maryland Hospital Center.
But Maryland Health Secretary Dennis Schrader told the Board of Public Works members that the state would seek a more conventional arrangement to provide health care services in Western Maryland later in the fall. Schrader said the administration decided to change course after public criticism of the proposed contract and private reservations from Comptroller Peter Franchot (D), one of three members on the BPW.
“We agreed with the wisdom of your position,” Schrader told Franchot.
The Health Department wanted the Board of Public Works to approve two contracts valued up to $125 million that would have allowed private entities to provide medical services that are currently carried out at the hospital in Hagerstown. But the contracts did not name specific vendors to provide the services and only sought authorization from the BPW to look for private companies willing to do the work, and critics warned that the contracts could be a prelude to privatizing all medical services at the hospital or closing the facility permanently.
Instead, Schrader said, the state will go through a regular procurement process to see whether specific companies are willing to bid on the contract. The closing date for bidders is Oct. 21, he said, and the health department expects the contract to be back before the Board of Public Works in late November or early December.
Schrader said the state is seeking to turn some of the medical services over to private entities because officials are concerned about the condition of the hospital and the stability of the health care workforce in Western Maryland. Thirty-eight of the current 43 patients at the medical center are in nursing home care.
“We’re having difficulty keeping the program and the staff intact and we’re very worried about the condition of the infrastructure,” Schrader said.
Franchot suggested that the Department of Health will have to make a strong case for the contract when it comes up later this fall.
“There’s a lot of interest in this issue and I think people want to make sure we’re doing our very, very best for the patients out there,” he said.
In a statement, AFSCME Council 3, the public employee union that had sounded warnings earlier in the week about the state’s proposed emergency contracts, said it was pleased by the Board of Public Works’ decision to pull the agenda items.
“Instead of providing WMHC with the funds and resources it deserve, Governor [Larry] Hogan’s administration has repeatedly used preposterous arguments and scare tactics as excuses to close the hospital even though other oversight bodies see no reason to pull the hospital’s accreditation,” said Patrick Moran, the union president. “As Western Maryland’s need for quality healthcare services continues to grow, we are prepared to continue to fight to ensure that Marylanders in these communities have access to the health care services and facilities they need.”