United Medical Center's chief medical officer: Hospital operator Veritas put patients at risk

United Medical Center has been under fire after a newspaper investigation looked into the death of a nursing home patient. (Pamela Seaton/Creative Commons)

The chief medical officer at a troubled hospital in the District of Columbia said that the consulting firm operating the facility has put patients in danger.

Julian Craig, M.D., the chief medical officer at the district's only public hospital, United Medical Center (UMC), said at a public health committee meeting that financial improvements made at the hospital by Veritas, a Washington-based consulting firm, came at the expense of patient safety, The Washington Post reported as part of a series of articles about the beleaguered hospital. 

"I think they've done tremendous damage … already," Craig said. "Patient safety and quality has suffered." 

Maria Costino, who worked at UMC as director of quality management and patient safety, said she left the post after seven months as Veritas employees repeatedly tried to hamper her work. She said one of the consultants deployed at the hospital told her in a discussion of the facility's patient safety issues that "Veritas will be blamed for this" and not to share details of problems she identified until the reports were reviewed. 

A spokeswoman for Veritas and UMC declined to comment on Craig's and Constino's testimonies, the Post reported.

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UMC and Veritas have been under the spotlight over the past several weeks after the Post reported on the death of Warren Webb, a 47-year-old patient who died at UMC's nursing home in August. Webb, who was an AIDS patient, laid on the floor for 20 minutes calling for help while a nurse argued with his roommate, according to time-stamped audio obtained by the newspaper.  

He later died of a heart attack, according to the report. UMC did not include key details about Webb's death in an incident report, the Post later found

Webb's death occurred the same month that the District's Department of Health (DOH) restricted UMC's obstetrics license following several patient safety lapses earlier in the year. At the time UMC declined to release further details on the incidents for privacy reasons, but said it would address the DOH's concerns. 

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The D.C. Council will vote tomorrow on whether to extend its contract with Veritas; the consulting firm has operated the hospital for a $300,000 monthly fee since last year, according to another article from the newspaper. 

Amid the controversy, Veritas also revealed plans to replace the CEO of UMC. It said it will replace CEO Luis Hernandez following a national search once it finalizes its $4.2 million contract with the city.