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D.C. General crisis called ‘misleading’

Hospital gets high accreditation score; officials allege financials are skewed

(Published Dec. 4, 2000)

By KATHRYN SINZINGER
Staff Writer

Public Benefit Corp. CEO Michael Barch, left, speaks with D.C. residents Nov. 29 before a town hall meeting on the future of D.C. General Hospital at Israel Baptist Church in Northeast Washington. Barch and D.C. City Council members David Catania, R-At large, Kevin P. Chavous, D-Ward 7, and Sandra Allen, D-Ward 8, have proposed turning the troubled institution into an urban medical campus that would include facilities from the National Institutes of Health.

D.C. General Hospital officials, several D.C. council members and health care advocates are accusing the mayor’s administration and the financial control board of misleading the public in order to drive their agenda for dismantling the Public Benefit Corp. (PBC), which operates the city’s public health care delivery system.

They claim that the financial condition of the city’s only public hospital is being exaggerated, with its dire straits being painted as tremendously worse since actions have been taken to stem the flow of red ink – at least partially due to Congress tying city officials’ hands by prohibiting them from pumping tax dollars into supporting the hospital’s budget.

And they point to the above-average 94 percent score that D.C. General just received from the Joint Commission on the Accreditation of Health Care Organizations – the accrediting agency for U.S. hospitals – as proof that recent horror stories about questionable care being the norm at the facility are untrue. Last year the average hospital nationwide scored between 86 and 88 percent on the survey that hospitals are required to pass every three years in order to qualify for Medicare and Medicaid payments.

"It’s a myth that there’s some question of quality of care here," said PBC spokesman Bill Jones. "It’s a very, very outstanding affirmation of the quality of care here."

While health care advocates like Vanessa Dixon of the Health Care Now Coalition call it "a sad irony" that Mayor Anthony A. Williams has been attacking D.C. General’s quality of care as part of the argument for drastically scaling back its services, city health director Dr. Ivan Walks contends the administration’s argument has been getting twisted.

"That’s never been something we have raised. I’ve never said that the people at the PBC are bad doctors and bad nurses....That’s never been part of the concern," Walks told The Common Denominator.

However, Walks also claims that "a lot of frantic work was done" to prepare for the accrediting team’s four-day visit to D.C. General and its neighborhood clinics at the end of November because "there was a lot of concern they wouldn’t pass." The clinics received a 97 percent score.

PBC spokesman Jones said D.C. General scored 100 percent in 39 of the 44 accrediting categories and that "the (condition of the) facility was the only category where we got a poor ranking, which dragged the whole score down." Governance and medical records are among the categories on which hospitals are scored.

The crisis atmosphere and the political rhetoric surrounding the PBC’s future were elevated Dec. 1 when the presidentially appointed control board, which is expected to soon become dormant after the city’s fourth consecutive balanced budget from fiscal 2000 is certified, announced that it is considering invoking its authority to take over operation of the city’s health care facilities.

At-large Councilman David Catania, who along with council members Kevin Chavous and Sandra Allen and PBC chief Michael Barch held a public meeting Nov. 29 to discuss their efforts to create an urban health care campus with the federal government at D.C. General, said the council "has no intention of letting" the control board take D.C. General’s operation out of city officials’ hands.

Meanwhile the mayor’s top policy aide, Gregory McCarthy, called efforts to play down the financial difficulties at the PBC "a cynical and dishonest way of giving people false hope."

PBC spokesman Jones called the stories of spiraling costs at D.C. General and its clinics "a little bit misleading" and "unrealistic."

"If anything, the costs are starting to go down," Jones said. "The recent figures (being publicized) are based on projections made by using only one month of the new fiscal year."

And Jones said that first month of fiscal 2001 – October – includes inflated costs due to the city’s Office of Property Management taking out the entire year’s worth of costs for the PBC’s leased facilities and six months’ worth of fuel costs for all leased spaces.

Mayoral spokeswoman Peggy Armstrong, mayoral aide McCarthy and health director Walks all said they had no knowledge of the Office of Property Management’s actions regarding the PBC leases.

"The mayor seems so invested in shutting this place down that I have to question the accuracy of the financials," said Health Care Now’s Dixon. "For anything the mayor wants, there’s money. It’s simply a matter of political will."

Copyright © 2001 The Common Denominator