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In August, United Medical Center (UMC)—a public hospital in Washington D.C.—had their obstetrics license suspended for 90 days without much explanation as to why. The local community and beyond were outraged, not only for the lack of details but also because it was the only healthcare facility in the area that offered obstetric services—forcing residents to drive as much as 20 miles farther to receive much needed care.

Now more clarity has come to the situation, as a letter has surfaced from the District Health Department to UMC—detailing several serious infractions and errors made by the hospital’s obstetrics department. Following the publication of the letter by the Washington Post—who called the errors “dangerous mistakes”—the UMC came forward and merely admitted to what they called “deficiencies” in prenatal screening, assessment and child-delivery protocol. The healthcare facility did not go into any detail as to the reasons for their shutdown, but the letter obtained by the post outlined these and other issues:


  • Failure to take appropriate steps during and after birth that would prevent the transmission of HIV from an infected mother to her newborn—most hospitals would deliver via Caesarean section and/or administer Nevirapine, an antiretroviral medication.
  • Improper treatment and monitoring of an obese, close-to-delivery pregnant woman with a history of serious blood pressure problems that was displaying signs of preeclampsia (an elevation in blood pressure) and acute respiratory distress.
  • Failure to conduct follow-up screenings on a newborn, even though standard medical practice dictates follow ups at 12 hours, 24 hours and 48 hours of age—as outlined in a Newborn Screening Laboratory Bulletin issued by the Centers for Disease Control in 2014.


In an interview after the letter’s release, D.C. Health Department Director LaQuandra Nesbitt repeatedly refused to confirm as to why her staff had shut down the obstetrics ward at UMC—merely citing that it was an issue of patient confidentiality. Health policy experts admit that, while it’s not unusual for officials to withhold comment on the restriction of certain hospital services, usually inspection records are available to the public. Rosemary Gibson, a patient advocate with the Hastings Center research group believes that matters of privacy are all too often used to cover up information the public deserves to know. “The entire system is based on trust. Without being completely open and honest with the public, how can the public know if a place can be trusted?” Gibson said.


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