The D.C. health department has ordered the Southeast D.C. hospital that serves some of the poorest residents of the city to stop delivering babies and offering prenatal care for the next 90 days.
The D.C. Department of Health restricted the hospital license for obstetric and newborn nursery services at United Medical Center (UMC), the department announced Tuesday.
Ward 7 Councilman and former D.C. mayor Vince Gray called the temporary closure a "health equity" issue. He's set to hold a public meeting on the problem at the Wilson Building Friday morning.
The license suspension will remain in place for 90 days or "until the hospital implements its plan for obstetrics and nursery services," the health department said in a statement.
The health department did not release additional information on why the license was suspended, and did not respond to an email or phone call requesting information on how this affects new moms, expectant moms and babies.
A statement from the hospital, located on Southern Avenue SE, said the health department cited "deficiencies."
"These include three separate cases involving deficiencies in screening, clinical assessment and delivery protocols," the statement said. Privacy considerations bar the hospital from releasing additional information, the hospital's statement said.
"UMC is taking immediate action to address these deficiencies," the statement said.
People who live near the hospital were not told the hospital cannot serve pregnant women and newborns, Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Keeon Bassett said. Having to pay for transportation to other hospitals is a burden, she said.
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"You have a lot of unfortunate people around here that really can't afford to go anywhere else, and it's really not fair," Bassett said.
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.
Gray called the temporary closure of the obstetrics unit an example of how neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River should have access to better health care.
"It is far past time to finally bring health equity to the east end of the city," the former mayor said in a statement. “The continued struggles of United Medical Center highlight the unacceptable chasm in health equity that is currently a way of life for residents on the east end of the District of Columbia. An over half-century old hospital simply cannot provide the quality and scope of health care services that residents enjoy in other areas of the city."
The closure of UMC's obstetrics unit follows the closure this fall of the neonatal intensive care unit at Prince George's Hospital Center. The NICU was shut down for almost two months after the potentially deadly bacterium pseudomonas was found in the water system. Three babies tested positive for the bacterium, and nine infants were moved from one NICU to another.
The roundtable Gray's office announced will be held at 11 a.m. Friday in room 500 of the Wilson Building. Anyone who wishes to testify is asked to contact Gray's office.