Financially troubled old North Charles Hospital may close

February 25, 1991|By Jonathan Borand Peter H. Frank

The Johns Hopkins medical system is expected to announce today that it will close all or part of the old North Charles Hospital, which registered the largest loss in the state's hospital industry last year.

Officials of what is now the Homewood Hospital Center-South said yesterday that they expected to hear in a meeting this afternoon the outcome of a consultant's three-month-long study of the problems of the 213-bed general hospital.

"It appears from everything I've gathered right now that things don't look too well," said Larry Wilson, spokesman for the Homewood Hospital Center. "Closure would be the extreme possibility."

But the hospital's chief physician -- as well as hospital industry executives -- said yesterday that they fully believe Johns Hopkins will shut down the money-losing hospital. Homewood Hospital Center-South employs between 900 and 1,000 people, Mr. Wilson said.

"The word is, everyone is sending out their resume or working on it," said Dr. Sheldon Goldgeiger, the hospital's chief of medicine. "I would be surprised if they didn't go ahead" and close the hospital, he said.

The hospital's personnel department has been developing plans for several weeks to help workers find other jobs within the Johns Hopkins medical system, according to a hospital administrator.

Joann Rodgers, a spokeswoman for the Johns Hopkins medical institutions, said that she did not know what decision had been reached but that an announcement is expected soon. "We were told on Friday that a decision would be made within the next several days," she said yesterday. "It has been the subject of a lot of review and consultation for some time."

As part of its review of the hospital, directors of the hospital system hired the Hunter Group, a Chicago-based consulting firm that specializes in working with financially strapped hospitals.

In 1986, North Charles Hospital and Wyman Park Medical Center became part of the Johns Hopkins Health System, which also owns Johns Hopkins Hospital and the Francis Scott Key Medical Center. Two years later, Hopkins merged North Charles and Wyman Park and changed their names to the Homewood Hospital Center.

Homewood Hospital Center-North, formerly Wyman Park, is not expected to be closed. The 75-bed hospital is devoted mainly to psychiatric and addiction disorders and to military personnel and their families.

The combined hospitals registered a $3.6 million loss in 1990 -- the largest deficit of any hospital in Maryland. Homewood projects losses to escalate to $4.3 million for the current fiscal year, which ends June 30, according to figures from the state Health Services Cost Review Commission.

Hospital executives have blamed much of the financial difficulties on a declining occupancy rate at the North Charles facility, which filled on average only 71 percent of its beds last year, compared with an optimal occupancy rate for the industry of 85 percent. Homewood told state regulators that it expects occupancy for the current year to fall below 63 percent.

The old North Charles Hospital, located in Charles Village, is a general hospital with medical and surgical beds, a well-known cardiology department and an emergency room on 28th Street just west of Charles Street.

Dr. Goldgeiger and industry observers said the hospital has had a difficult time competing with nearby hospitals, including Union Memorial and Maryland General.

State law forbids a hospital from closing overnight. James Stanton, executive director of the Maryland Health Resources Planning Commission, said yesterday that the law requires a hospital to notify the commission of its intent to close. Then, the commission must hold a hearing within 45 days in order to give the public a chance to say what impact the closing would have.

"In Maryland, a hospital cannot just close its doors one day and put a sign up telling people to go somewhere else," said Mr. Stanton, who declined to comment on the hospital's plans.

"While there is a possibility of disapproval [of a closing], the likelihood is very low," he said, citing an estimated 2,000 empty hospital beds in Maryland -- the bulk of them in Baltimore.

The law also requires hospitals to describe plans for helping laid-off employees find other work.

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