$12.7 million contract approved to overhaul D.C.-owned hospital

The D.C. Council voted Tuesday to approve a $12.7 million, two-year contract to overhaul management of United Medical Center, the city-owned hospital that has bedeviled officials for a decade.

The 8 to 3 vote followed a lengthy debate that touched on various aspects of the hospital deal, including concerns about the contracting process, the necessity of the costly turnaround and what form the hospital might take afterward. But the contract had the strong support of the council chairman, Phil Mendelson, and the Health Committee chairman, Yvette M. Alexander (D-Ward 7), and it passed handily.

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Under the contract, employees of Chicago-based Huron Consulting Group will assume the positions of chief executive and chief technology officer as steps are taken to implement the recommendations of a strategic review completed in 2011.

Those recommendations, developed by the consulting firm RSM McGladrey, would have the hospital scaled down from 350 beds to 60 and would close a 120-bed skilled-nursing facility.

The hospital, formerly known as Greater Southeast Community Hospital, posted a $13.8 million loss in fiscal 2012, according to audited city financial records. The hospital showed a small profit in the previous year, but city officials shifted some Medicaid funds away from its operations in June, arguing that the funding could not be justified.

The high price of the contract vexed some members, but a majority agreed a turnaround is necessary. “That money can be better used, but having said that, we need this company to come in,” said Jack Evans (D-Ward 2). “It kills me to have to spend $12 million to turn it around, but at the end of the day, we need this.”

The council meeting later became a forum for D.C. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) to continue to speak out against the District’s new ethics board and its recent finding that he likely violated city ethics rules by intervening in a 2008 contract dispute.

The Board of Ethics and Government Accountability said on Feb. 6 that “substantial” evidence suggests that Graham broke the District’s code of employee conduct, but the board did not recommend sanctions against him because the alleged offense took place before the board was established.

Graham, who could be sanctioned by his council colleagues, spoke up about the matter as the council took up a bill that would make clear that the board has the authority to issue advisory opinions and recommend sanctions against city employees who violate the code of conduct.

He assailed the board, saying that it had not provided him with due process to contest its findings. “I think this is going to provide for further abuse,” he said. “Every member of this council needs to know you may also be subject to an advisory opinion.”

Graham said he is considering court action to challenge the board’s decision.

Darrin Sobin, executive director of the ethics board, said the board will “respond in due course” if Graham files an appeal and “the court asks the board to defend itself.”

 
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