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Dealing with a ‘sideshow’

“Before Vincent Gray became mayor, we had been successful keeping Gandhi away from the hospital,” Mr. Catania said. “We wanted to give the hospital a chance to grow and increase demand, then hopefully partner with a large national chain.”

Mr. Gandhi has long advocated selling the medical center, warning that the financial demands of running a hospital could eventually threaten the city’s bond rating.

Mr. Catania said the contract controversy that will be voted on Tuesday is a “sideshow, a distraction” from the real issues facing the hospital. He recited an array of statistics that suggest growth has been substantial — doubling revenues and tripling the number of patients seen in the emergency room.

“Maybe Huron can come up with some reasonable numbers,” he offered, referring to the task of collecting what the hospital is owed from Medicaid and other payers. “Though I don’t trust anyone with regard to this.”

Samuel Jordan, chairman of the United Medical Center Foundation, the hospital’s nonprofit fundraising arm, agreed that issues of fairness in the contracting process are secondary to questions of “public morality” that could arise if Huron is brought in to downsize the hospital.

“Particularly when no study has been conducted to ascertain the health care needs of 200,000 residents that make up the communities served by the hospital east of the river,” he said Friday.

$12.7 million for what?

The November 2011 consultant’s report that called for the turnaround contract requires a transition of UMC from a full-service, acute-care hospital to an ambulatory-care facility of 60 beds or fewer, Mr. Jordan said, noting that the report did not include a community health care needs assessment.

“Who on this Committee of the Whole will be responsible for the likelihood of death and aggravation of acute illnesses when the hospital is downsized, sold or closed and travel times to hospitals west of the Anacostia become critical to patient survival?” he asked Wednesday at the council hearing.

Then, if the end-game is to sell the hospital, he said, “why should we spend $12.7 million on consultant fees to downsize and sell [it] low when we could invest $12.7 million to improve the hospital and sell it high?

“None of the funds, by the way, will be applied to patient services, physical plant improvements or new technologies,” he said of the contract.

But with half of the council present at Wednesday’s hearing, and the majority of those signaling their intent to approve the Huron contract, the concerns that brought about the meeting are as likely to be addressed, at this point, as the reasons for seeking the contract in the first place.

“This contract promotes questionable research, self-dealing and waste of public funds,” Mr. Jordan said, while at the same time acknowledging his concerns are a moot point.

“It should be withdrawn and thoroughly reconsidered as to its objectives, its costs, its lack of public morality, its lack of transparency and meaningful engagement of representatives of affected communities.”