- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 4, 2003

The D.C. Department of Health yesterday ruled that Greater Southeast Community Hospital can stay open after nearly shutting down the facility for health- and safety-code violations two months ago.

The 450-bed facility still faces serious challenges, including the loss of its accreditation and a recent threat from creditors in an ongoing bankruptcy case to seek a court-ordered closure.

However, yesterday’s announcement signaled a significant victory for the hospital and allows Greater Southeast to move forward with attempts to regain its accreditation next month.

Mayor Anthony A. Williams said city health officials will continue to closely monitor operations at Greater Southeast.

“Our goal continues to be that we want to see this facility to serve the community,” Mr. Williams said in a statement. “We will continue to keep a watchful eye on the bankruptcy proceedings now under way.”

Greater Southeast lost its license earlier this year after D.C. hospital inspectors uncovered fire-safety-code violations, equipment failures and lapses that they linked to the deaths of at least six patients.

The hospital has been operating under a provisional license — a consent agreement reached with DOH in August — that gave the facility 60 days to improve conditions in five major areas.

Hospital administrators said yesterday the DOH gave the facility passing grades in each of the five areas — fire safety, the emergency room, staffing, a quality-improvement program and record keeping.

“We are extremely pleased to receive our report from the Health Department stating that we have totally met all five aspects of the consent decree,” said Greater Southeast Administrator Joan Phillips in a prepared statement yesterday.

Questions still remain about who will run the facility when bankruptcy proceedings wrap up next month. Doctors Community Healthcare Corp. (DCHC), the Arizona-based company that owns the hospital, declared bankruptcy last year.

The company is seeking to retain control of the hospital when the bankruptcy sale takes place Dec. 10 by borrowing tens of millions of dollars, according to its reorganization plan filed in U.S. Bankruptcy Court.

Creditors are seeking a bailout from the District to keep the hospital open, but city officials have not indicated whether they plan to provide funding for Greater Southeast, which is losing about $2.6 million a month.

DCHC purchased Greater Southeast at 1301 Southern Ave. in December 2000, and the facility has received at least $30 million in D.C. tax dollars since then to provide health care for low-income residents.

Yesterday’s decision also came as a relief to representatives of advisory neighborhood commissions, who attended a rally to keep Greater Southeast open last week. The District 1199E-DC of the Service Employees International Union, which represents about 300 hospital workers, also attended the rally.

Meanwhile, city officials are lobbying Howard University to build another hospital on the site of D.C. General Hospital, which closed three years ago. The D.C. Council yesterday unanimously approved emergency legislation for Mr. Williams to begin negotiating with Howard to build the facility.

“Howard University will build and operate the hospital,” Mr. Williams said yesterday. “We will help them to whatever extent we can, providing land, technical assistance and capital financing. I will not support any proposal that involves a government-owned and -operated hospital.”

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