United Medical Center still delivers babies despite closure of its obstetrics unit, nurses say 

United-Medical-Center-Credit-Pamela-Seaton
United Medical Center's obstetrics unit has been closed since August. (Pamela Seaton/Creative Commons)

District of Columbia health officials shut down United Medical Center's obstetrics unit last summer, but nurses at the hospital say that babies have been delivered there since the closure. 

The city's Department of Health restricted UMC's obstetrics license in August following a series of dangerous mistakes that put patients at risk. The consultants operating D.C.'s only public hospital were also privately concerned about safety in the unit and its financial costs, and had been planning a shutdown themselves. 

Wala Blegay, a staff attorney at the D.C. Nurses Association, said at a public roundtable this week with members of the city council that multiple nurses claim more than one woman has given birth at United Medical Center since the Aug. 9 shutdown, according to an article from The Washington Post. 

There are no longer obstetrics nurses working at the hospital, Blegay said, which leads to increased risks for mothers and infants born in the emergency department. "There is a concern that at one point there is going to be a situation that comes in that they simply can't handle," she said. 

Jennifer Devlin, a spokeswoman for the hospital, said that just one baby has been born at UMC since the obstetrics unit was closed. If a woman in labor arrives at the hospital, emergency physicians stabilize and treat her before transporting her to an obstetrics unit elsewhere, Devlin said. 

UMC's board voted to permanently close the obstetrics unit last month. 

RELATED: Report near misses to improve patient safety 

Safety issues at UMC have made headlines in recent months following the obstetrics shutdown and a Post investigation that revealed details about the death of a man in the facility's nursing home. The patient suffered a heart attack and was left on the floor for 20 minutes while a nurse argued with his roommate, according to audio obtained by the newspaper. 

The hospital's former chief medical officer, Julian Craig, M.D., testified that changes made by its operator, Veritas of Washington, in the name of cutting costs had jeopardized patient safety. 

The D.C. Council ended its contract with Veritas, with many citing Craig's testimony as a key factor. Veritas staffers are expected to be out of UMC by the end of the month, and Craig was later fired

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