- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 24, 2007

D.C. officials are asking a federal judge to throw out thousands of pages of hospital records that a watchdog group cites as evidence of widespread problems at St. Elizabeths Hospital.

University Legal Services first sued the District more than two years ago over failing patient conditions at the city-run psychiatric hospital. The group recently sought a court order to fix the problems in a motion that included 739 exhibits, including hospital records, internal memos and other reports.

However, the D.C. Office of the Attorney General, in its first response to the motion, is asking a judge to throw out the documents, saying most of them are inadmissible under court rules.

“Plaintiff’s motion impermissibly selects bits and pieces of anecdotal and largely unauthenticated evidence and constructs, at best, a ‘house of cards,’ ” D.C. attorneys argued in a recent pleading.

The District also accused the watchdog group of employing an “everything but the kitchen sink” approach in its decision to include thousands of pages of exhibits in its recent memo, including many that remain under court seal.

Left unanswered in the District’s response are questions raised in the group’s recent motion about at least one death and hundreds of assaults tied to failing conditions at the hospital.

The group also has argued there have been several fires at the hospital in recent years, including one in which four patients walked unnoticed off hospital grounds.

D.C. officials disputed the accusations in general but said they plan to file a detailed defense of their case by May 15. They’re hoping the judge will throw out the case.

The District’s upcoming motion to dismiss “will be based on material facts that the District believes are undisputed,” wrote Matthew Caspari, deputy general counsel for the city’s mental health department.

The watchdog group says the District is trying to avoid addressing the questions it has raised about failing conditions at the hospital.

“The District has responded and not on the merits but by trying to find a procedural hatch to avoid the claims at issue,” group attorneys argued in an April 20 memo filed in federal court in the District.

Operations at St. Elizabeths have been a recurring source of concern, with the U.S. Justice Department and Medicare regulators conducting separate inquiries in recent years.

D.C. officials say the hospital has improved and they’re investing millions of dollars in upgrades to it and staff services.

In addition, D.C. attorneys argue the Justice Department review, which was cited by the group, was based on inspections that took place more than two years ago.

The city attorneys also say an expert hired by the group testified in a deposition that his review of assaults at St. Elizabeths did not include an analysis comparing the frequency of incidents to those in comparable institutions.

Founded in 1855, St. Elizabeths was the federal government’s first hospital for the mentally ill. The hospital’s patient enrollment dropped from 7,000 in the 1940s to about 420 today, including would-be presidential assassin John W. Hinckley Jr. The District is building a new hospital expected to be complete by July 2009.

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