- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 10, 2013

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

It has been nearly a year since Marion Barry and fellow D.C. Council member David A. Catania got into a profanity-laced sparring match over the fiscal health of United Medical Center, and here we are, approaching another Valentine’s Day and troubles have escalated.

The council is scheduled to hold a hearing Wednesday afternoon on Contract No. DCHT-2012-C-0014 Approval Resolution of 2013, the technical name for Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s proposal to spend $12,759,970 to “turnaround” the city’s struggling publicly owned hospital.

The amount of money for the contract is in dispute, since it exceeded the original budget by $2.7 million, and the awarding of the contract is contentious, as some lawmakers question how Huron Consulting Services LLC of Chicago won the contract.

What is indisputable is the city’s chief financial officer advised against purchasing the formerly privately owned hospital in 2010, which has had questionable mismanagement and expenditures, including federal dollars.

Moreover, council oversight has itself been negligible — and that’s a modest characterization.

Indeed, the Barry-Catania Valentine’s Day blow-up in 2012 stemmed from Mr. Catania’s taking offense at questions from Mr. Barry, Ward 8 Democrat, regarding the future of the hospital, which, as the Washington Business Journal reported in July 2011, was already on life-support, since “the government has reworked Medicaid formulas to spur revenue and dedicated staff nearly full time to aiding the hospital’s on-site managers and governing board.”

At the time, Mr. Catania, at-large independent, was chairman of the council’s Committee on Health, so it is somewhat understandable why his reaction to Mr. Barry’s search for the facts drew such an emotionally obscene response.

Yet facts are precisely what the council should be in search of Wednesday, when it conducts a public hearing on Mr. Gray’s proposal to spend millions on a process that provides absolutely no direct health care benefits to the District’s indigent residents.

The hearing is being held, in part, because of dogged reporting by one of my colleagues, Jeffrey Anderson, whose recent news stories have provided details of irregularities and government officials’ responses regarding the $12.7 million contract:

City officials skirted D.C. law by awarding the contract to Huron, whose initial bid failed to include a D.C. certified minority contractor.

To cover their tracks, city officials indulged in a do-over, and Huron won again, leading critics on the losing side to raise the irregularity specter.

The hospital lost $13 million in fiscal 2012 under Mr. Catania’s watchdoglike eyes.

While Mr. Catania no longer has oversight as chairman, he remains a committee member. His actions at the hearing should speak volumes.

Mr. Anderson quoted the Health Committee’s new chairwoman, Yvette M. Alexander, Ward 7 Democrat, as describing the contract as “quite pricey for what they are tasked to do.” Here again, the original cost was an estimated $10 million.

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