- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 16, 2003

Howard University officials said yesterday they no longer want to buy bankrupt Greater Southeast Community Hospital, dealing a setback to city officials and activists who thought the takeover would cure the hospital’s financial woes.

The university, which runs Howard University Hospital in Northwest, said in a written statement released to The Washington Times yesterday there were too many unanswered questions.

“After a careful analysis of the operations and facilities at Greater Southeast Community Hospital, Howard University has decided not to submit a bid,” the statement read. “There were simply too many unanswered questions.”

University officials declined to elaborate.

Howard’s decision disappointed many observers who hoped that the university would bail out Greater Southeast, ending the hospital’s recent history of failed inspections and financial collapse that now threaten its closure.

“It would have been wonderful if Howard stayed in the competition for Greater Southeast,” D.C. Council member Sandy Allen, Ward 8 Democrat, said after learning about Howard’s decision.

“Many of the residents of Ward 8 are patients of Howard,” Mrs. Allen said. “I don’t know why they pulled out, but Howard would have given us a wonderful opportunity to have a teaching institution there. … But I am still hopeful that Greater Southeast will come back to its full potential.”

Council member David Catania, at-large Republican, was less confident about the hospital’s future. “I’m very upset,” Mr. Catania said. “Howard University would have been a terrific partner to our residents. This is a loss.

“But I don’t blame them,” he said. “I believe that any entity that wants to do business here is rightly cautious.”

Greater Southeast, the only city hospital east of the Anacostia River, primarily serves low-income residents in the District and receives much of its funding through D.C. tax dollars.

For the past two months, Greater Southeast has been operating under a consent agreement reached between hospital administrators and D.C. health officials in August.

Under that agreement, the hospital was allowed to stay open for two months if it addressed failures in five major areas, including fire safety and emergency-room staffing.

D.C. hospital inspectors will decide on Nov. 1 whether conditions have improved enough since August to warrant reinstating Greater Southeast’s operating license.

Joan Phillips, interim administrator at Greater Southeast, said yesterday she was confident that health officials will keep the hospital open.

“The health department has told us we’re doing a good job,” she said. “There is more to do. I don’t want anybody to think this is all over, but we have met all of the criteria that was required of us.”

However, questions about the hospital’s ownership remain. Doctors Community Healthcare Corp. (DCHC), the Arizona-based company that owns the hospital, declared bankruptcy last year. The deadline for parties to submit bids to acquire the company’s assets is Oct. 28.

Health care activists fear Howard’s withdrawal from the bidding process heightens the chance that DCHC officials will retain ownership when the bankruptcy sale takes place Dec. 10.

The activists have criticized DCHC because the company spent millions on bonuses for executives since buying the hospital three years ago, despite staffing shortages and mounting financial problems.

“A lot of hopes were held on Howard putting in a bid,” said Vanessa Dixon, of the D.C. Healthcare Coalition, an advocacy group. “People were hoping that Howard would come to the rescue.

“Now the implication is that the same crew will reorganize themselves and continue to do what they’re doing,” Miss Dixon said. “Unfortunately, that will just mean more of the same.”

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