- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 18, 2004

Doctors for a health clinic run by bankrupt Greater Southeast Community Hospital say they haven’t been paid in nearly a month, a situation that sparked talk of a strike earlier this week and is making some physicians leery of renewing their contracts.

Dr. William Hall, who represents a physicians’ group at the D.C. General Hospital clinic in Ward 6, said the doctors have not received their weekly paychecks since the third week of February. He said the D.C. General clinic, which is operated by Greater Southeast, serves 150 to 200 mostly low-income patients daily.

Dr. Hall said doctors are upset that Greater Southeast’s parent company — Arizona-based Doctors Community Healthcare Corp. — continues to pay high salaries to bankruptcy lawyers and consultants even as physicians aren’t getting their paychecks.

He said the situation prompted 27 doctors at D.C. General, who contract with Greater Southeast, to vote to stage a walkout today. However, the doctors changed their minds after meeting with administrators Wednesday night, Dr. Hall said.

“It’s a matter of disrespect,” Dr. Hall said. “The doctors should be getting paid and getting paid on time.”

Dr. Hall said several physicians say the pay problems have made them reluctant to renew their one-year contracts this summer.

Greater Southeast Administrator Joan Phillips said D.C. General clinic physicians are contract doctors and that the hospital is required to pay them only on a monthly basis.

Miss Phillips also disputed the doctors’ contention that a cash shortage is to blame. She said the hospital is transitioning from a weekly to a monthly pay system.

Greater Southeast officials said a walkout by the clinic doctors would not have forced them to shut down the facility, but likely would have meant using Greater Southeast staff to operate the D.C. General clinic. “We’ll just put somebody else in there,” Miss Phillips said.

Miss Phillips blamed the labor problems on miscommunication between the clinic’s contract doctors and Greater Southeast.

“There is going to have to be more ongoing communication,” she said. “They need to be part of the team. We want to see more teamwork.”

However, Dr. Hall said physicians have tried repeatedly to get clear answers from Greater Southeast about why they are having trouble getting paid.

“They keep telling us that they’ll get back to us but they don’t,” said Dr. Hall. “And they won’t put anything in writing.”

Dr. Hall said many physicians also are skeptical, given the parent company’s recent history, when Greater Southeast officials say they are only changing their pay system. He said the several doctors have said they may not renew their contracts in July.

Doctors Community Healthcare declared bankruptcy in November 2002 after the FBI began investigating the firm’s primary lender, Ohio-based National Century Financial Enterprises Inc.

Doctors Community executives have been attempting to regain control of the facility through bankruptcy proceedings, while lawyers and consultants in the case continue to earn more than $1.1 million per month in fees, court records show.

The hospital recently laid off 62 Greater Southeast workers, including 30 contract nurses.

Administrators said the cuts were necessary because Greater Southeast is losing too much money. Court records show the hospital lost $2.5 million in January.

D.C. General, at 1900 Massachusetts Ave. SE, continues to operate as a health clinic after city officials shut down the hospital in 2001 as a part of a plan to privatize health care for low-income residents.

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