- The Washington Times - Friday, August 22, 2003

Officials representing Greater Southeast Community Hospital employees criticized hospital owners yesterday for spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to influence D.C. politicians while health care workers were being laid off.

“If the purpose was to put the hospital on more stable financial ground, well, obviously it didn’t work,” said Larry Rubin, legislative liaison for Service Employees Union Local 1199, which represents about 350 workers at Greater Southeast, the District’s primary hospital for low-income residents.

The union’s criticism came in response to a report yesterday in The Washington Times that the now-bankrupt Doctors Community Healthcare Corp., which owns Greater Southeast, has paid a D.C. firm more than $600,000 to lobby D.C. politicians since 2000.

In addition, Doctors Community corporate headquarters in Scottsdale, Ariz.; its two D.C. hospitals, Greater Southeast and Hadley Memorial Hospital; and its corporate executives and their relatives gave at least $75,000 to D.C. political campaigns, according to D.C. Office of Campaign Finance documents.

Union leaders said Doctors Community should have spent that money to correct regulatory failures at the hospital.

“Understaffing and layoffs have been a tremendous problem at Greater Southeast,” Mr. Rubin said. “And there have been tragic results.”

The D.C. Health Commission recently reported that six persons died at the hospital because of a lack of proper treatment. Meanwhile, D.C. Health Department inspectors cited a lack of full-time staff as one of the reasons officials suspended the hospital’s license in January.

The hospital continues to operate under a consent decree reached with the Health Department earlier this month. Regulators will decide in October whether Greater Southeast has improved enough to remain open.

Mr. Rubin said the union’s hospital workers, who include nursing assistants, technicians and maintenance staff, have not fared well since Doctors Community bought the hospital out of bankruptcy in 1999.

“The layoffs have been steady,” Mr. Rubin said. “When Doctors came in, we were representing about 700 workers, and now I think we’re down to around 400.”

But those cost-cutting measures weren’t reflected in corporate expenditures by Greater Southeast’s owner, according to Office of D.C. Campaign Finance reports.

Through private donations and corporate expenditures, Doctors Community executives spent more than $675,000 to lobby D.C. elected officials and contribute to D.C. political campaigns from 2000 to 2002.

During roughly the same period, Mr. Rubin said, Greater Southeast laid off at least 100 hospital workers, leaving the 445-bed facility understaffed.

Doctors Community has declined to comment about its political expenditures. Its District-based attorney, former D.C. Council member John Ray, denied that the company’s lobbying and political expenses ever affected patient care.

Mr. Ray said funds that came directly from Greater Southeast to D.C. political campaigns — $3,500 to the campaigns of Mayor Anthony A. Williams and Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp — “were appropriate amounts.”

Mr. Ray also said the more than $600,000 that Doctors Community paid to D.C. lobbyist Kerry Pearson bore no effect on operations at Greater Southeast. He also said private contributions from corporate executives and their families were a matter of personal choice.

Doctors Community financial backer, National Century Financial Enterprises Inc., which is also bankrupt, likewise took an interest in D.C. politics, according to campaign documents.

The Dublin, Ohio-based company gave $2,000 to Mr. Williams’ campaign. The company’s former chief executive officer, Lance Poulsen, gave $2,000 in a separate private donation from his home in Port Charlotte, Fla.

National Century filed for bankruptcy last year after the FBI seized its records. Federal authorities continue to investigate charges of securities fraud costing investors as much as $1 billion.

Union leaders say they hope Greater Southeast can survive, despite the ownership problems and the collapse of its financial backer.

“There must be a hospital in that part of the city that serves the uninsured and the underinsured,” Mr. Rubin said. “People depend on the hospital for their health care as well as their jobs. We just need a responsible owner.”

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