- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 15, 2003

Health care activists are questioning the decision last week by the D.C. Department of Health to relicense Greater Southeast Community Hospital before finding out who will end up owning the troubled facility.

However, Department of Health officials defend the decision and say administrators at the only hospital east of the Anacostia River have pledged to continue making improvements after regulatory failures nearly closed the medical center last month.

The activists fear that if day-to-day operations at the hospital revert to Arizona-based Doctors Community Healthcare Corp., as court documents suggest, then Greater Southeast will slip back into disrepair.

“The hospital is a big concern in the community,” said Vanessa Dixon of the D.C. Healthcare Coalition. “If Doctors [Community Healthcare] is taking control again, there’s no evidence that it will be run any differently.”

Doctors Community bought the hospital three years ago, then declared bankruptcy in November 2002. A U.S. bankruptcy judge appointed Boston-based Cambio Health Solutions to run Greater Southeast during the court proceedings.

Under the firm, Greater Southeast underwent a turnaround and staved off closure after the Department of Health threatened to shut it down.

The Health Department had threatened closure after linking the deaths of at least six patients to poor care and uncovering fire-code violations and staffing shortages. It gave the hospital a 60-day deadline in August to make improvements.

Under Cambio, Health Department inspectors ruled that Greater Southeast fixed the stated problems and returned its license.

However, health care activists fear the reforms are only temporary and that Doctors Community will resume control, reversing the hospital’s recent progress. Doctors Community recently filed a reorganization plan seeking to resume control of the hospital when bankruptcy proceedings conclude next month.

“I think the problems will persist,” said Sam Jordan, director of Healthcare Now. “Relicensing the hospital is in part a political concession to the political necessity of having a hospital in that part of the city.”

However, D.C. Health Department Director James Buford said Greater Southeast administrators told him that the progress will continue even if Doctors Community regains control.

“They have assured us that they will continue to have a management team in place for the long term,” Mr. Buford said.

“We are very much concerned that the hospital sustain the progress that it has made,” Mr. Buford said. “They have used a large number of consultants in key positions to achieve the progress they have made.”

Mr. Buford said the day-to-day monitoring of the hospital by the Health Department stopped after the decision last week to relicense Greater Southeast, but city inspectors will continue to make periodic inspections.

The Health Department is also in negotiation with Greater Southeast over a restriction — handed down last week — that limits the hospital’s inpatient population to 150 beds.

Mr. Buford said Greater Southeast officials are appealing that ruling. “We should have something worked out by next week,” he said.

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