- The Washington Times - Friday, September 12, 2003

Greater Southeast Community Hospital administrators predicted yesterday that D.C. health inspectors will restore the hospital’s license by next month, but questions remain over who will end up owning the facility.

Their predictions came during their first update on the hospital’s status since last month’s announcement that Greater Southeast had lost its accreditation because of failures in patient care, staffing and management.

The facility remains under daily supervision by the D.C. Department of Health, which last month said it would close the hospital if conditions did not improve in five areas by Oct. 12. Those areas are staffing, record keeping, power system equipment, emergency room operations and fire safety.

At yesterday’s news conference, Greater Southeast administrators and physicians expressed confidence in their plans to keep the hospital open, despite the loss of several health plans such as Aetna Inc. and Carefirst Blue Cross/Blue Shield, which terminated contracts with the hospital over the past two weeks.

“I believe it’s doable,” Greater Southeast Administrator Joan G. Phillips said. “We are here for the long term.”

In addition, patient volume at the 450-bed Greater Southeast has dropped from 180 daily to 150 since the loss of accreditation, officials said.

Several physicians and hospital consultants said they believe the hospital will meet the mandates of the Health Department consent decree, which gives the hospital 60 days to improve care and correct deficiencies or lose its license. The hospital and health department signed the decree Aug. 12.

Since then, two doctors have been assigned to the emergency room at all times, with patients being treated within 30 minutes of arriving, instead of waiting for hours. The hospital also has contracted with staffing agencies to bring in more nurses. The hospital also upgraded CAT-scan equipment and the backup power generator, officials said.

“We have achieved compliance and exceeded compliance in a number of areas,” said Dr. Robert H. Williams Jr., director of the hospital’s Emergency Department.

Hospital consultant Glen D. Krasker said he expected the hospital to regain its accreditation by the end of the year.

“We want to make sure we’re ready,” said Mr. Krasker, who is a former director at the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations, which issues the accreditation.

However, administrators said they didn’t know who would assume ownership of the hospital if the hospital manages to avoid closure.

Greater Southeast’s current owner, Arizona-based Doctors Community Healthcare Corp., declared bankruptcy amid mounting regulatory failures in November 2002. Creditors will weigh the company’s reorganization plan against bids from prospective buyers as early as next month.

Community and health care activists have criticized Doctors Community because corporate executives had spent millions on loans to themselves, lobbying and political contributions since 1999, a period that coincided with staffing shortages and layoffs at Greater Southeast.

Greater Southeast is a private, for-profit hospital. But the facility receives about one-third of the tax dollars that D.C. government pays to the D.C. Healthcare Alliance. The alliance received a $500 million, five-year contract from the D.C. government in 2001 to privatize health care for low-income residents.

Health officials said it is too early to predict the hospital’s future beyond Oct. 12. But recent Health Department inspection reports, which were obtained through the Freedom of Information Act by The Washington Times, note “significant improvements” at Greater Southeast.

However, health officials indicated in the same reports that the hospital still needs to improve its staffing and emergency room waiting time. D.C. hospital inspectors faulted inadequate staffing for incidents where ambulances had to be diverted to other hospitals that occurred, on average, twice a week last month. Ambulances are diverted when an emergency room is too crowded to ensure adequate care for incoming patients.

The inspectors also found inadequate record keeping. Personnel files of several hospital nurses did not contain proof of criminal background checks or certification in cardiopulmonary resuscitation, according to an Aug. 26 Health Department memo included in the inspection reports.

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