Another Setback For Greater Southeast

The earliest Greater Southeast might regain its accreditation is next fall.
The earliest Greater Southeast might regain its accreditation is next fall. (By Nikki Kahn -- The Washington Post)
By Susan Levine
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 8, 2007

Greater Southeast Community Hospital had its national accreditation yanked yesterday because of the overwhelming problems that pushed the District facility close to collapse for much of this year.

The accreditation decision is another blow to the hospital's standing in the community and staff morale but not a critical financial setback. Private insurers often refuse to pay for care in an unaccredited facility, but Greater Southeast has few patients with such health coverage.

Eric Rieseberg, president of Specialty Hospitals of America, which purchased Greater Southeast a month ago, said he does not expect reimbursement from Medicare or Medicaid to be at risk.

The decision by the Joint Commission had been expected since mid-October, when a survey team from the Chicago-based health-care organization concluded that malfunctioning emergency power and fire protection systems endangered patient safety. Although city officials, hospital staff and Greater Southeast's future owner all were pushing for speedy corrections by then, they were warned that de-accreditation was likely given the magnitude of issues and months of mismanagement and fiscal turmoil.

Greater Southeast, which lost its accreditation for several months in 2003 for many of the same reasons, was sold Nov. 7 by its longtime owner, Envision Hospital Corp. of Arizona. Yesterday, Specialty acknowledged the challenge of the hospital's turnaround while focusing on the progress already made. The earliest that Greater Southeast might regain commission approval is next fall, according to company executives.

"We have plenty of work to do," Rieseberg said.

A spokesman for the commission would only confirm its action. The findings of the inspectors who were at the hospital seven weeks ago have not been discussed publicly. They were investigating clinical issues and patient care.

In a statement, Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) expressed his confidence in Greater Southeast's future. His administration backed the New England-based Specialty's purchase of the hospital and negotiated $79 million in public loans and grants to help finance major capital improvements and new technology there.

"We will continue to support Specialty Hospitals as the company begins the difficult task of turning Greater Southeast Community Hospital into a great healthcare facility," Fenty said.

The company plans to quadruple the institution's number of beds and add long-term and psychiatric care. It has contractors and consultants working on repairs and upgrades of all aspects of the hospital.

Bids are being evaluated and, within a week, as much as $3 million should be approved for new equipment for the intensive care unit, radiology department and patient monitoring, Rieseberg said.

"We will be making major investments in [Greater Southeast] on an almost daily basis," he said.

The chairman of the D.C. Council health committee, David A. Catania (I-At Large), said yesterday that Specialty's "lightning speed" in addressing the hospital's needs has far exceeded his expectations.

"This helps underscore for me the city investment" in Greater Southeast, Catania said. "We did the right thing."

And without it, he added, "I am convinced this hospital would be closed."

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