- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 24, 2004

A health care firm with political ties to Mayor Anthony A. Williams’ administration has agreed to return nearly $2 million to the city after not meeting its contractual obligations to provide around-the-clock services through its clinic in Ward 7.

D.C. Department of Health officials said yesterday that D.C. Chartered Health Plan Inc. plans to repay the funds under an agreement reached with the company last week. The agreement still requires D.C. Council approval.

The arrangement comes a month after The Washington Times reported that the health maintenance organization (HMO) never had provided 24-hour services at its urgent care clinic as required in a May 2002 contract with the District.

In exchange for a one-time lump sum payment from the D.C. government of $1,895,000, Chartered Health was to convert its urgent care facility at 3924 Minnesota Ave. NE into a 24-hour facility, according to the contract.

The contract states: “Chartered will operate a 24-hour center out of its existing location in Ward 7. Chartered will provide adequate staffing and other support to ensure the center is available and accessible 24 hours per day, seven days per week.”

However, nearly two years after funds were paid, the Chartered Health clinic remains closed on Sundays. The facility also shuts its doors from midnight to 9 a.m. on weekdays. The urgent care center is located on the east side of the Anacostia River, where a lack of primary health care services forces many low-income patients into increasingly crowded hospital emergency rooms.

The contract does not include any subsequent modifications to limit the clinic’s hours. Representatives of Chartered Health and the city Health Department did not produce any written agreements to amend the terms of the contract, in response to requests from The Times last month.

Chartered Health is owned by Jeffrey E. Thompson, a political supporter and contributor to Mr. Williams’ campaign. Mr. Thompson also has won appointments from Mr. Williams to serve on the influential boards of trustees for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority and the University of the District of Columbia.

The lack of 24-hour services at the Chartered Health clinic has prompted sharp criticism from several D.C. Council members in recent weeks. David Catania, at-large Republican, called the arrangement “an outrageous violation” of city contracting rules and practices.

D.C. health officials said yesterday the firm agreed to repay the money after the health department audited city funds paid for the Chartered Health urgent care facility.

“Chartered is refunding the District the $1,895,000 for the urgent care clinic,” said Brenda Emanuel, deputy director of the Healthcare Safety Net Administration in the city’s health department. “It was mutually agreed upon.”

However, the deal will not become official until the D.C. Council approves the $96 million plan the health department submitted last week to fund the D.C. Healthcare Alliance. The alliance is a city-funded program to provide health coverage for low-income people who do not qualify for Medicaid. The agreement for Chartered Health to repay the $1,895,000 is contained in the annual alliance-contract modification awaiting D.C. Council approval.

A summary of the $96 million contract was sent to council members last week. However, under D.C. contracting laws, council members say they cannot review the entire contract without first filing a formal motion of disapproval.

“The only way to actually see the contract is to file a disapproval first, then they’ll send it over,” said D.C. Council member Sandy Allen, Ward 8 Democrat. “I’m certainly not opposed to Chartered paying back that money. They should. But first I want to make certain that the right measures are in place to make sure the money really gets paid back.”

“Considering the historical mismanagement that the District has had in terms of various contractors not providing services and the District’s inability to recoup the funds, I’m approaching the situation with due caution,” Mrs. Allen said.

Chartered Health officials said last month that they initially agreed to operate the 24-hour clinic, but later realized that contract didn’t provide enough money for around-the-clock operations.

D.C. health officials told The Times last month that they permitted Chartered Health to operate fewer than 24 hours a day when company officials complained that more funds were needed. However, D.C. health officials would not disclose who authorized that arrangement.

The agreement originally was brokered between Francis Smith, then a member of the D.C. Control Board, and Mr. Thompson.

A memorandum of understanding between the District and Chartered was signed by Mr. Thompson and Mr. Smith on Sept. 30, 2001, the day the control board disbanded. Mr. Smith now works at Mr. Thompson’s accounting firm, Thompson, Cobb, Bazilio & Associates.

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