Days after requesting millions of dollars in subsidies from the city government, the leaders of a troubled D.C. hospital that serves some of the city’s poorest residents decided the hospital will no longer offer prenatal services or deliver babies.
United Medical Center (UMC), the only D.C. hospital east of the Anacostia River, announced Thursday that the hospital’s board voted against reopening its obstetrics unit.
Women in the area had to go elsewhere to deliver babies after the D.C. Department of Health shuttered the ward in August, citing deficiencies.
The nearest hospitals -- Howard University Hospital in Northwest, D.C.; Providence Hospital in Northeast D.C. and Prince George's Hospital Center in Cheverly, Maryland -- are all more than 20 minutes away by car.
“We remain committed to the residents and patients of this community,” a UMC spokesperson said in a statement about Thursday’s vote. “The unfortunate reality about OB is this: long before the DOH decision to restrict OB, mothers made a conscious choice not to deliver their babies at United Medical Center.”
The hospital has since announced a partnership with Howard University Hospital and Unity Health Care to provide women with prenatal care at community clinics in Southeast D.C.
The hospital said it may revisit the idea of opening a women’s health care department in the future. But some people are unhappy about the gap faced by residents east of the Anacostia.
“This decision is a step backward in creating a true health care system in Wards 7 and 8, and is entirely contrary to the Council’s progressive agenda of advancing health equity for our East End residents,” D.C. Council Member and former mayor Vincent Gray said. He accused hospital administrators of voting to keep the obstetrics department closed during a secret meeting.
Gray also said the current UMC board and Mayor Muriel Bowser’s administration are inadequately leading the hospital, to the detriment of “would-be mothers on the East End of the District who will be most disadvantaged from the resulting lack of essential obstetrical care.”
City Council in November forced a change for the hospital by voting not to renew a contract with Veritas, the company that operates and manages UMC. Seven Council members voted to end the contract; six voted against the measure.
Ahead of that vote, News4 contributor Harry Jaffe implicated Veritas in the hospital’s shortcomings. Jaffe wrote that “great connections and campaign contributions, rather than stellar credentials” won Veritas the contract to run UMC.
UMC is looking for another company to manage day-to-day operations at the hospital, and has already contracted with Axis Healthcare Group and The GW Medical Faculty Associates to take over the behavioral health unit, the emergency department and inpatient care.
The UMC board on Tuesday asked the city government for $7.5 million in subsidies to pay for the GW contract, according to a UMC statement. The board requested a total of $17.1 million in subsidies to settle a dispute with the nurses’ union over pay, repay the government after overcharging Medicare and compensate for revenues lost as patient numbers decline.