Thursday, September 4, 2003

D.C. residents near Greater Southeast Community Hospital yesterday complained about receiving no information about whether patient care and staffing are improving and mused about the prospect of the hospital’s closure.

“The area needs this hospital, but we need it to be run the right way,” said William Hinton, who lives across from the hospital in the 1200 block of 12th Street SE.

“At the same time, if I had a choice, I wouldn’t go there right now unless I’m out and I can’t make a choice. Take me there, revive me then get me out of there,” Mr. Hinton said.

Greater Southeast Hospital lost its license in January and since has been operating under a consent decree with the D.C. Health Department. To remain open the hospital must improve staffing, record keeping, power system equipment, maintenance and emergency room operations.

D.C. hospital inspectors next month will decide whether conditions have improved enough to lift the hospital’s suspended license or close the 445-bed facility. Until then, frustrated residents say they can only guess what will happen.

“It’s not reassuring if you’re not hearing any information about what’s going on in there,” Mr. Hinton said. “All we hear are these reports of bad things happening. If they’re making improvements, then they should tell us.”

A briefing scheduled for this week at which administrators planned to report on the hospital’s progress toward meeting conditions of the consent decree has been postponed until Sept. 12. Administrators said detailed reports on hospital operations should come from the D.C.. Department of Health, which did not respond to repeated inquiries by The Washington Times.

D.C. Council member David A. Catania, at-large Republican, said he was disappointed but not surprised by the hospital’s decision not to hold public briefings regarding its recent performance.

“There is certainly a history of Greater Southeast doing whatever they need to do to buy themselves another day,” Mr. Catania said.

While hospital administrators said in general terms that conditions are getting better, the community is concerned about the lack of progress reports from city officials or Greater Southeast.

“I don’t think we should wait until time is up to talk about what we’re going to do,” said the Rev. Willie Wilson, pastor of Union Baptist Church at 1225 W St. SE. Many of the church’s members go to Greater Southeast for medical care. “The city needs to come up with a plan on what is going on now, and on what is going to happen if things don’t get better.”

Mr. Wilson, a member of the D.C. Healthcare Coalition, said the health care advocacy group has held public forums over the past month so residents could voice their concerns about ailing Greater Southeast.

He said residents are increasingly leery about getting services at Greater Southeast after the hospital lost its accreditation last week, prompting two major health plans — Aetna Inc. and BlueCross BlueShield — to terminate their contracts.

“People don’t really want to go there, but they don’t always have a choice,” Mr. Wilson said.

Greater Southeast became the primary hospital for the District’s low- income residents after D.C. General Hospital was closed in 1999. Arizona-based Doctors Community Healthcare Corp., owner of Greater Southeast, declared bankruptcy in November 2002.

City hospital inspectors and the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations have found widespread deficiencies at Greater Southeast over the past year. City officials attributed at least six deaths at the hospital since 2000 to understaffing, lack of oversight, and management problems.

Despite the hospital’s recent regulatory failures and financial collapse, residents living nearby say they still want Greater Southeast to stay open.

The union representing hospital employees last week began circulating a study to city officials advocating that Greater Southeast remain open, but under a different management philosophy.

The study by the Service Employees International Union 1199E-DC and the D.C. Primary Care Association blamed the hospital’s woes largely on overspending by management.

“The value of Greater Southeast Community Hospital to the community is too great to take a less than pro-active approach to resolving the current financial and operational challenges,” the study concludes.

Community leaders agree. “The hospital is important because it’s the only one we have [east of the Anacostia River],” said Lendia Johnson, an advisory neighborhood commissioner in Ward 8, where most residents depend on Greater Southeast Hospital for care.

“Folks are not willing to give up what they have for something unknown,” Miss Johnson said.

“For now, they’re willing to deal with the services they get. They may not be the best services, but they’re all we have right now. Hopefully, though, they’ll get better in the future.”

However, one D.C. Council member said the only way Greater Southeast will be successful is under a different ownership.

“The logical conclusion is that we need a truthful and efficient management team,” said Mr. Catania.

Council member Sandy Allen, Ward 8 Democrat, who has been a vocal critic of Greater Southeast’s current management, was unavailable for comment this week.

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