United Medical Center fires 'whistleblower' chief medical officer after he criticizes operator Veritas

United Medical Center's board is currently searching for a new operator. (Pamela Seaton/Creative Commons)

The chief medical officer at an embattled District of Columbia hospital has been fired after he provided key testimony about patient safety issues at the facility. 

Julian Craig, M.D., chief medical officer at United Medical Center, provided crucial testimony in the D.C. council's decision to end its contract with Veritas of Washington to operate the city's only public hospital. The Washington Post reports that his contract with the hospital was not renewed, so his employment will end Dec. 18.

Council members expressed concern about the hospital board's actions, according to the article. Craig's attorney Debra Katz said the firing is "absolutely chilling for whistleblowers" and that he's pursuing legal options. 

"This looks like classic retaliation to me," council member Mary Cheh, one of seven council members who voted to end Veritas' contract, told the publication.

The council voted to terminate Veritas' contract by Nov. 30, but the UMC board voted to extend it by up to 60 days while it continues to search for a new operator, according to the article. 

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The city was paying Veritas about $300,000 a month to operate UMC this year, and if the contract had been renewed, it would have been worth $4.2 million. 

Veritas was under fire for its performance operating UMC after a Post investigation revealed details about the death of a patient in its nursing home. The man died from a heart attack after he was left on the floor for 20 minutes, calling for help, as a nurse argued with his roommate, time-stamped audio obtained by the newspaper found. 

UMC then left crucial details about the incident out of reports, the Post reported. Craig's testimony was also cited by many council members as key to their decision to end the contract. 

Earlier this year, the city’s Department of Health also shut down UMC’s obstetrics unit, following several patient safety lapses. In one case, physicians at UMC delivered a baby for a patient naturally, though she was infected with HIV. (An infant delivered by cesarean section is less likely to contract the virus.)