United Medical Center leaders planned to close obstetrics unit before city officials moved to shut it down

Veritas of Washington was planning to close United Medical Center's obstetrics unit amid concerns about care quality and costs. (Image: Pamela Seaton/Creative Commons)

District of Columbia health officials shuttered United Medical Center's obstetrics unit last summer, but hospital leaders were already planning a shutdown at that time, according to confidential internal documents obtained by The Washington Post. 

The district's Department of Health restricted the hospital's obstetrics license in August following a series of dangerous medical errors. For example, United Medical Center clinicians failed to properly monitor and treat an obese pregnant patient who visited the hospital with breathing problems despite a history of preeclampsia, a potentially fatal blood pressure condition.

However, consultants with Veritas of Washington, the hospital's operator at the time, were already discussing closing the ward, according to the Post's investigation, as they were concerned about care quality and the high costs to run it.

United Medical Center's board voted to permanently close the obstetrics unit at a closed meeting last month, according to an article from Washington Business Journal. 

Former UMC obstetrics employees told the Post that the decision to close the unit had been in the works for several months, and that hospital managers had not devoted enough staff members or resources to the nursery and delivery rooms, putting patients at risk.

It's unclear how long Veritas consultants had been discussing the shutdown, according to the article. United Medical Center declined to comment to the Post, saying the internal documents are "privileged and confidential information, and the property of United Medical Center only."

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Veritas' operation of United Medical Center has made headlines in recent months, leading the District of Columbia Council to cancel its contract to operate the city's only public hospital. In addition to concerns about obstetrics, the hospital's chief medical officer, Julian Craig, M.D., said that financial improvements made by Veritas threatened patient safety.

Craig's testimony was part of an intense scrutiny of the facility following the death of a patient in UMC's nursing home facility. Crucial details about the man's death were left out of hospital reports. Veritas' contract was terminated in November, but they have continued to operate the hospital as the city looks for a replacement. Veritas consultants are expected to leave UMC by the end of the month.

Craig was fired following his testimony, a move experts say is "absolutely chilling for whistleblowers." His condemnation of Veritas was central to the decision to end the contract, according to several city council members.