- The Washington Times - Friday, May 10, 2002

The sudden closing of the private, 136-year-old Columbia Hospital for Women at 25th and L streets NW was a surprise to many and spawned a number of problems for its patients, medical staff and other hospital workers.
Although D.C. hospitals may be able to handle in-patient overflow resulting from the closure, Columbia's obstetrical clinic for pregnant teen-agers will be hard to replace, according to several doctors.
Columbia's doctors may have little trouble finding work, but D.C. Council member Sandy Allen, Ward 8 Democrat, wondered about other hospital workers, like kitchen and janitorial staff.
Miss Allen also said that in the event an outpatient's primary care physician may move after Columbia's closing, their care could be disrupted.
One doctor predicted that many doctors may, indeed, leave the District, which would only worsen the decrease in the number of physicians and the quality of care caused by the closing of D.C. General Hospital a year ago.
Finding a new physician, and then having one's medical records transferred, will take time and effort, Miss Allen said.
"All of these are small things, but they can cause havoc in somebody's life," she said.
A nursing recruiter for the George Washington University Hospital, which is trying to fill almost 50 nursing positions, was at Columbia Wednesday to talk to nurses there, said spokeswoman Lisa Saisselin.
Although GWU Hospital hired only one nurse Wednesday, Mrs. Saisselin said they expect to hire many more in the next week or two.
The recruiter found Columbia's nurses crying and distraught over the news of the closing and too upset Wednesday to make a commitment, Mrs. Saisselin said.
"They were shell-shocked," she said.
This week's closing of the 86-bed Columbia Hospital probably will not threaten to overwhelm neighboring hospitals with new patients.
Representatives for George Washington University Hospital, the Georgetown University Hospital, and Sibley Memorial Hospital, the three hospitals closest to Columbia, said they will be able to absorb patients who had received care at Columbia.
Mrs. Saisselin did say that they would experience an increase in patients over time, owing simply to the increase in physicians, who will come from Columbia.
But Columbia also had an obstetric clinic that specialized in services for pregnant teens.
The city is ill-prepared for the clinic's closing, said Dr. Maurice Taylor, a reproductive-medicine specialist at Columbia.
"I'm not aware that the city has the facilities and staffing to meet the needs of those teens, especially on such short notice," he said.
But Paula Faria, a spokeswoman for Georgetown University Hospital, said that Georgetown has a mobile medical clinic, which provides medical services to uninsured children and to 18- to 21-year-olds in Wards 2 and 6 and parts of Ward 7.
She said she knew of eight similar mobile medical units. "I would hope that they would be able to pick up some of the slack," she said.
The fate of hospital employees, other than doctors and nurses, is also a concern.
Vanilla Curry, 62, of Northeast, who had worked in dining services for 45 years, found out her job was in jeopardy while watching the news on TV Monday night .
"It's meant a lot to me," she said of her long tenure at Columbia. "I've really enjoyed working here over the years."
She said private food-services company Sodexho has been her employer since taking over food service at the hospital three years ago, and she was pretty sure they would place her in another job somewhere.
But Miss Allen, chairman of the council's Human Services Committee, said that depends on whether Sodexho has contracts with other hospitals and whether there is room.
"Other hospitals have waiting lists for those types of jobs," she said.
Columbia Hospital for Women, which opened in 1866 to care for the widows of Civil War veterans and has delivered more than 250,000 babies, already has closed its doors to new patients and will cease operations today.
The hospital is heavily in debt and has fallen victim to "slow pay" by insurance companies, its administrators said.


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