- The Washington Times - Friday, November 22, 2002

Some D.C. Council members are proposing a new public hospital to replace a private consortium that took over indigent health care in the District last year. The leading partner in the consortium filed for bankruptcy this week.

"I want to look at getting another hospital," said D.C. Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp, a Democrat. "We don't want to be caught in circumstances where we can't provide service for our residents. I have great concern that we will be going down the same road one or two years from now."

Mrs. Cropp also said the council already has reserved a space on a parcel of land known as Reservation 13, east of the Anacostia River, for such a hospital. Other council members, including Kevin Chavous, Ward 7 Democrat, support the idea.

The initiative came up during a testy hearing yesterday on the D.C. Healthcare Alliance, during which most of the council members grilled D.C. Department of Health, Alliance and Greater Southeast Community Hospital officials over the plans to protect the city's health infrastructure. The hearing was scheduled after the consortium's leading partner, Doctors Community HealthCare Corp. of Scottsdale, Ariz., filed for bankruptcy protection on Wednesday.

Doctors was forced to file for bankruptcy protection because its lender, National Century Financial Enterprises, of Dublin, Ohio, filed for bankruptcy on Monday.

Doctors owns Greater Southeast and Hadley Memorial hospitals in the District.

Council members were infuriated that representatives from the three entities could not provide a contingency plan should the hospital close as it runs out of money. They expressed frustration that they were not given clear answers as to the number of dollars already spent and how much more was needed. And they took turns delivering an "I told you so" to the absent Mayor Anthony A. Williams, who had championed the plan against their will in spring 2001.

"We have to dispel the myth that Doctors is the victim here," said Council member David Catania, at-large Republican. "They did business with a national financing company now in bankruptcy and under investigation [by the FBI] for fraud. It was all out there two years ago. That is why we didn't want to enter into a contract with them."

City health officials reassured the council that the city's money would be protected from the bankruptcy proceedings, and the health system would remain intact because it is the government that funds the system.

But James Buford, acting director of the D.C. Health Department, proposed removing Greater Southeast as the lead partner in the consortium, which includes six hospitals, clinics and Chartered Health Plan.

"This situation provides major challenges in our attempts to provide health care to the uninsured," he told the council. "We have concerns about their financial stability and their ability to carry out their responsibilities as the primary contractor. So we are recommending the termination of Greater Southeast as the lead provider."

Greater Southeast says it will be able to provide the same level of health care it has provided since it took over outpatient and trauma care from D.C. General Hospital in May 2001. Hospital Chief Executive Officer Karen Dale said the emergency room remains open even as some patients are being diverted to other hospitals and the hospital intensive care unit operates at half capacity. And Greater Southeast shut its emergency room this weekend, diverting ambulances to other area hospitals because of a staffing shortage.

One hospital in the consortium, Washington Hospital Center, pulled out of the group Wednesday, saying it will stop accepting elective patients from Greater Southeast by Dec. 1 because of the more than $4 million owed in back claims.

There is no other emergency room east of the Anacostia River. The closest emergency room is at Howard University Hospital, nine miles away in Northwest.

Now the issue is whether Greater Southeast can find a new financier and restructure itself to be financially viable. If not, say hospital officials, they probably could survive two weeks without an infusion of cash from the city.

It would cost an estimated $5 million a month to keep Greater Southeast running if it doesn't find private financing.

So far, Mrs. Cropp has called on the mayor to withhold any future payments to the hospital until the city can ensure that the money won't be going "down a bankruptcy hole."

Council members say they are loath to let a city hospital close because other hospitals in the city already are overburdened after the partial closure of D.C. General last year.

"It isn't realistic to let a hospital close in the city," said Jack Evans, Ward 2 Democrat. "But we are not flush with cash like we once were. We have nothing."

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