Struggling hospital could have profound effect on D.C.

Should Maryland-based Johns Hopkins Medicine, which is interested in expanding into Washington, D.C., be handcuffed into rehabilitating a flailing hospital in order to get approval to take over a flourishing one? That's the argument Washington Post columnist Steven Pearlstein makes in reference to Friday's takeover of struggling D.C.-based facility United Medical Center by the District itself. 

Hopkins has its sights set on acquiring not-for-profit Sibley Memorial Hospital, which earned an operating surplus of $58 million on $222 million in revenue in 2008, according to Pearlstein. The columnist suggests that D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty make the two institutions a "package deal"--in other words, force the Maryland giant to help bring UMC back from the dead in order to receive "speedy approvals" for the real prize. 

"I concede this idea is a bit unconventional," Pearlstein writes, "even mischievous, but it would allow the city to directly confront the reality of a healthcare system that has become increasingly segregated by race, class and health status." 

While Pearlstein said that his idea "intrigued" D.C. Attorney General Peter Nickles (and likewise left Hopkins and Sibley officials shaking their heads), it might be much easier said than done. Specialty Hospitals of America, which previously owned the UMC, failed to keep it from losing roughly $20 million since 2007. As such, the facility was purchased by the District at foreclosure auction Friday morning.

That move at least temporarily prevents the closing of a hospital that many in the District believe simply cannot be allowed to close, reports another Post article. Some, however, worry that if left as is, the situation could devolve in similar fashion to one that took place in the city in 2001, when then-D.C. General Hospital (now D.C. General Ambulatory and Emergency Care Centers) was forced to terminate inpatient care; in that situation, it was determined that the facility was losing tens of millions of dollars annually in taxpayer funds. 

"There is no happy example of a local government smiling its way through the hospital business," Post staff writer Mike DeBonis writes. "It is the specter of another D.C. General that has some worried." 

But is forcing Hopkins to help really the way to prevent "another D.C. General"? What do you think? Write to us and let us know. 

For more information:
- read Pearlstein's column
- here's the other Washington Post piece
- read the Post's blog post about the foreclosure auction purchase
- check out this Washington Business Journal article