02202018Headline:

Washington, District of Columbia

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Chris Nace
Chris Nace
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Will a Hospital in the Nation’s Capital Ever Overcome Ongoing Safety Issues?

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Almost six months ago, I first touched on the problems of a Washington D.C. area hospital that is desperately needed to serve an otherwise isolated community. While there have been issues for some time, the seriousness of the situation came to the attention of the general public in August 2017, when the D.C. Department of Health sent a letter to United Medical Center (UMC)—the only public hospital located in the District—and ordered them to stop delivering babies and offering prenatal care for at least 90 days over concerns of safety.

The letter cited numerous errors on behalf of the hospital, running the gamut from problems with prenatal screening and assessment to child-delivery protocol. UMC referred to these errors simply as “deficiencies,” but an article in the Washington Post labeled them as “dangerous mistakes.”

More questionable conduct followed, as a seemingly house of cards built by an overwhelmed and understaffed consulting firm called Veritas (who had been contracted to optimize daily operations at the medical facility)began to crumble, ultimately leading to a hearing conducted by the D.C. Council’s health committee, who then decided not to renew the firm’s multi-million dollar contract. Now the only hospital that serves the Capital’s southeast area will be getting a new operator as soon as mid-February, pending contract approval by the Council.

Mazars USA, an accounting and financial consulting firm with operations in numerous states, has won a unanimous vote from the board to take over from Veritas and try and turn United Medical Center around—a job that will be an uphill struggle to say the least. “You are running with patient volumes down, with expenses that are not under control, with a revenue cycle that is not fixed…” commented D.C. Chief Financial Officer Jeffrey DeWitt, “you are functionally a Chapter 11 hospital right now.”

Beyond their financial problems, the hospital and its new operator will be battling an ongoing issue with a rather beleaguered reputation—as the hospital has had many “errors” that range from failing to prevent the transmission of HIV between an infected mother and newborn to failing to notify family members in a timely fashion of a patient’s death. I have wrote about these issues and other in past posts, and they all hint at a growing trend in the U.S. where health care facilities and their workers are making preventable mistakes—ones that you as a patient or taxpayer ultimately pay for. Those in the industry call such events as “nevers,” because they never really should happen—but they do with all too much frequency. Hopefully as more people become aware of such problems, we will begin to question such a low level regard of patient safety and begin to hold our caregivers more accountable.

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