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Health care providers seek funds

(Published March 11, 2002)

By KATHRYN SINZINGER

Staff Writer

Local health care providers say they are being overburdened by uncompensated costs of treating poor and uninsured patients since the city’s only public hospital was closed last July.

Representatives of Washington Hospital Center, which operates the District’s major trauma center, and the Nonprofit Clinic Consortium say the city has failed to provide any of the promised reimbursement for their services since the D.C. Healthcare Alliance was formed – under a controversial city contract – to replace services previously offered at D.C. General Hospital.

In recent letters to Mayor Anthony A. Williams and meetings with city officials, representatives of both organizations said the city’s failure to expeditiously resolve the financial burdens on private health care providers that have resulted from the public hospital’s closure threaten to destabilize overall health care services for D.C. residents.

"Ongoing problems … must be resolved immediately in order to preclude significant operational and political handicaps to the new system," cautioned a letter sent to the mayor on March 4 by the D.C. Primary Care Association, which represents medical professionals associated with the nonprofit clinics.

A Washington Hospital Center spokeswoman acknowledged March 7 that the hospital’s decision to lay off 190 primarily non-clinical employees in early February resulted in part from the high, uncompensated costs associated with treating significantly more uninsured emergency room patients since D.C. General’s Level 1 trauma center was closed.

Sharon Gang, a spokeswoman for the mayor, directed questions about the problems to the D.C. Department of Health. Health department spokesman Jack Pannell acknowledged "ongoing negotiations" to deal with the problems but declined further comment.

Health care providers cited their negotiations with city officials as the reason they declined to provide details of reimbursement they are seeking for their services.

At Providence Hospital, which has treated burgeoning numbers of uninsured patients in its emergency room since D.C. General closed, a spokesman said the hospital decided to become part of the D.C. Healthcare Alliance’s contract with the Department of Health earlier this month because the city’s plan for compensating non-participating health care providers "hasn’t worked out."

"In a business sense, it was the best thing for us to do," said Providence spokesman Curtis McCormick, who added that the "paperwork" decision does not affect patient care. "We’re convinced everybody has good intentions, but it’s just taking time to work it out."

Many health care providers opted out of participating as subcontractors when the financial control board last year awarded a contract to Greater Southeast Community Hospital to take over providing a health care "safety net" for the city’s estimated 80,000 uninsured. Those who opted out often cited what they said were unrealistically low levels of compensation for services. The contract, under which financially troubled D.C. General was closed, was unanimously opposed by the 13-member city council but strongly supported by Mayor Anthony A. Williams and Dr. Ivan C.A. Walks, the city’s health director.

On Feb. 28, Walks submitted his resignation to Mayor Williams with an effective date of May 1. Walks’ resignation letter lauded the mayor for "compassionate leadership" in his efforts to improve health care for D.C. residents and said he was resigning "with a feeling of accomplishment." The letter cited no reason for Walks’ planned departure, but reports published elsewhere quoted the health director as saying he is leaving for personal reasons and to do consulting work.

Copyright 2002, The Common Denominator