Investigation outlines Howard University Hospital's financial, patient safety and legal struggles

Howard University Hospital has paid out millions in malpractice suits since 2007, according to a new report.

Howard University Hospital is a District of Columbia landmark, but the facility has suffered financial hits and scandals over the past decade, with wide-ranging layoffs, millions in malpractice payouts and allegations of sexual harassment and discrimination.

The Washington Post examined more than 675 medical malpractice and wrongful death suits filed since 2006 against Washington's major hospitals: Howard, George Washington University Hospital, MedStar Georgetown University, Providence Hospital, Sibley Memorial Hospital and MedStar Washington Hospital center. Among the six, Howard had the highest rate per bed of lawsuits related to patient deaths, it found.

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Eighty-two cases were filed against the hospital, with $27 million in payouts recorded for 22 of those lawsuits; most settlement values were not publicly disclosed. The Post’s investigation also found that the hospital had been cited frequently by Washington officials for violating its own policies as well as local and federal regulations.

Former employees and local officials told the newspaper that its problems are widespread, as the hospital is poorly run and its emergency department is viewed as a “dumping ground” for “undesirables” like homeless and drunk patients.

Despite the expansion of Medicaid eligibility in the area as part of the Affordable Care Act, there are fewer hospitals and other medical providers in the city's poorer neighborhoods, FierceHealthcare has reported. Conversely, those hospitals are struggling financially compared to their counterparts in wealthier areas.

Hospitals like Howard in poorer areas tend to offer the most basic healthcare services, while hospitals in wealthier neighborhoods can offer more expensive specialty care and have an easier time recruiting physicians, exacerbating both the demographic trends for the communities they serve and their own financial gaps. 

The wait time for emergency room patients at Howard significantly outstrips the national average and that for other high-volume Washington hospitals, according to data from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services released in December: an average wait of 113 minutes, compared to a national average of 27 minutes and about 79 minutes at other high-volume local facilities.

Officials at Howard declined to speak with The Post but instead pointed to a December 2016 statement that touts its commitment to quality patient care and financial successes recorded in 2016. Howard’s last profitable year prior to 2016 was 2012, the hospital reported in September.