UMC may have found a new operator, but city official says the hospital is 'functionally' bankrupt

United Medical Center may have found a new operator to replace Veritas. (Pamela Seaton/Creative Commons)

The board of United Medical Center, the District of Columbia's embattled public hospital, has chosen a new operator, with the decision coming as a city official says the hospital's finances are teetering on the brink. 

The board voted last week to hire New York-based Mazars USA, a national accounting and financial consulting firm, to operate the hospital, The Washington Post reported. The D.C. Council will also have to approve the selection before Mazars can take over. 

However, the city's Chief Financial Officer Jeffrey S. DeWitt said the hospital is "functionally" bankrupt and will likely require further subsidies from the district before Mazars can get to work, according to the article. 

The hospital received eight bids for the contract, board member Konrad Dawson told the newspaper. Dawson did not specify the contract price with Mazars but said it would be "appreciably different" from the $3.6 million deal with the hospital's previous operator, Veritas of Washington. 

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The city council canceled Veritas' contract to operate the hospital in November amid concerns about patient safety. The hospital's then-Chief Medical Officer Julian Craig, M.D., testified before the council, saying that Veritas' cost-cutting efforts put patients at risk.  

City officials put the hospital's operations under a microscope after a Post investigation revealed details about the death of a patient at UMC's nursing home. The man died of a heart attack, and audio of the incident showed he laid on the floor for 20 minutes, calling for help, as a nurse argued with his roommate. 

If the city had renewed its contract with Veritas, the operator would have earned $4.2 million per year to run the hospital. Craig was later fired

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Prior to the controversy of the fall, the D.C. Department of Health in August shuttered UMC's obstetrics unit following several dangerous patient safety lapses. Veritas officials had planned a shutdown of the obstetrics unit themselves prior to city officials' intervention, expressing concern in internal documents about safety and costs. 

The hospital's board voted to permanently close the ward in December, though nurses at the facility say babies were delivered there following the closure last summer. 

The board voted in secret to close the ward, a move the D.C. Office of Open Government said violated the city's Open Meetings Act, according to a second article from The Washington Post. The board will make an audio recording of the meeting and the roll-call vote public following the office's ruling.

Wala Blegay, a staff attorney at the District of Columbia Nurses Association, told the newspaper that she hopes the audio will explain the rationale for permanently shuttering the unit.

"This is a hospital that's taking public dollars, and this is a hospital that has to answer to the community," she said. "We want answers."