Hospital Has a New Name and Outlook

By Susan Levine
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 30, 2008

In a moment of celebration yesterday, Greater Southeast Community Hospital ceased to exist and United Medical Center was announced as the new identity and hope of a facility that less than a year ago seemed on the verge of collapse.

The name change, by owner Specialty Hospitals of America, accompanies more than $12 million in publicly funded capital renovations and technology upgrades. They include a new roof and generators, major improvements in the emergency department and replacement of nearly all radiology equipment.

All of it, noted Specialty President Eric Rieseberg, is aimed at securing the future of the District's only hospital east of the Anacostia River.

"When our work here is done, this hospital will not only better serve the people of wards 7 and 8 but will be a resource for the entire District of Columbia," Rieseberg said during a ceremony attended by Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) and D.C. Council member David A. Catania (I-At Large), both key figures in Specialty's purchase of the hospital last fall.

The company's "brief listing" of its work to date notes that 20 physicians have joined the medical staff this year, a significant turnaround for a facility that had been hemorrhaging doctors. It plans to open a 135-bed skilled nursing center on the property by January, the same timeline that administrators have set for regaining the hospital's national accreditation.

Fenty referred to the critical role the hospital should serve for the health care needs of residents east of the river -- "and beyond," as he put it. "I look forward to the continued support of the entire city," he said.

The once-respected community institution along Southern Avenue has had multiple names since its founding in 1966. It started as Cafritz Memorial Hospital but after eight years became Greater Southeast. That appellation served it well until the late 1990s, when turmoil triggered by the first of two bankruptcies began a slow and ultimately inexorable decline in staffing, infrastructure and medical care.

Even before Specialty's purchase of the hospital became final in November, its leaders promised a new name. They let doctors, nurses and other employees vote for their preference from three titles proposed by the board of directors.

In the end, as revealed yesterday, United Medical Center won.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company