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Taking note . . .

Observations about public affairs in the nationís capital

by the editor of The Common Denominator

WTU FALLOUT: Finger-pointing continues to plague the Washington Teachers Union, whose members, according to The Common Denominatorís Native Intelligence columnist Diana Winthrop, are waiting for subpoenas to be issued before the end of the month as part of the investigation into alleged financial irregularities.

Sources say that Gwendolyn Hemphill, one of three who resigned their union positions last month, was more than an executive assistant to WTU President Barbara Bullock, who was forced to step down when financial irregularities were alleged. They say Hemphill actually handled the day-to-day operations at the WTUís office, including telling Treasurer James Baxter, (who also recently resigned) which checks to issue and which vendors to pay. Hemphill denies the characterization and says she only "followed orders" from Bullock.

Interestingly, everyone who has resigned over the WTUís latest troubles has been chanting the mantra "I was only following orders." Apparently, some D.C. teachers have become so disenchanted by their AFT-affiliated unionís ongoing problems that theyíre looking for new union representation. Theyíre now exploring the prospect of having the National Education Association represent the Districtís public school teachers.

Hemphill, who was erroneously identified in The Common Denominatorís last issue as vice chairman of the State Democratic Committee, is actually the executive director of the D.C. Democratic Party. She also co-chaired Mayor Anthony A. Williamsí re-election campaign committee.

NO WRITEOFF: With Greater Southeast Community Hospital facing dire straits, maybe CEO Karen Dale just got a little carried away by the moment on Nov. 26 when she repeatedly told a private gathering of individuals at Pennsylvania Avenue Baptist Church, who were invited for a "community briefing" by the mayorís staff, that the federal government had just "written off" about $1 million in Medicare overpayments the hospital must repay. Itís not so, according to a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services agency that oversees the Medicare and Medicaid programs.

Dale had just left a press conference at which Thomas Scully, administrator of HHSís Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), announced that his agency would temporarily suspend Greater Southeastís $82,000 monthly payments of its federal debt. The hospital still owes $1.8 million of an original $3.7 million in Medicare overpayments. Scully at the same time announced that his agency would immediately write a $3 million check to Greater Southeast for outstanding Medicare claims to provide a cash infusion, but those claims still require verification.

"It is not a writeoff Ė itís just a suspension of payments," a CMS spokesman reiterated for The Common Denominator. "We canít write it off. Thatís against the law."

The federal gesture to help keep Greater Southeast running as the hub of the Districtís for-profit health care system for the poor and uninsured apparently hasnít been extended to the other four financially troubled hospitals owned by Arizona-based Doctors Community Healthcare Corp., which sought Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on Nov. 20 along with all five of its hospitals.

Apparently Dale hasnít even asked the federal government for the same assistance for Ward 8ís Hadley Memorial Hospital, now a long-term care facility which she also heads as CEO.

"We have not been approached by any of them," the CMS spokesman said of the other Doctors Community Healthcare facilities. "We would certainly look into it if they have the need."

Dale did not return calls for comment.

MIA MAYOR: Longtime D.C. residents remember the way former mayor Marion Barry was figuratively tarred and feathered by the local news media when an unexpectedly harsh January snowstorm caught the District unprepared while the mayor was attending the Super Bowl in Los Angeles. Barry was soundly criticized for not returning immediately to take command.

With that backdrop, itís a bit surprising that Mayor Williams got away unscathed by local newshounds for leaving town to be a luncheon speaker in Kentucky on Nov. 21, while the cityís health care safety net for the poor and uninsured was unraveling. Chalk up one more for Teflon Tony.

Copyright 2002, The Common Denominator