Troubled Hospital in Southeast Improves, Regains Accreditation

By Darryl Fears
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 23, 2009

After a near-death experience, months of intensive care and an extreme makeover, the District's most woebegone hospital, United Medical Center, formerly known as Greater Southeast Community Hospital, is up and running again and has regained a steady pulse. The hospital announced yesterday that it has gotten its accreditation back.

The Joint Commission, a group that accredits health-care organizations, confirmed the hospital's announcement that it had earned accreditation slightly more than a year after losing it in December 2007. A spokeswoman for the commission said that United Medical Center passed a surprise inspection last month and that its accreditation became effective Jan. 14, a week before the hospital was notified.

Specialty Hospitals of America renamed the hospital and with the city's help invested $30 million in improvements and renovations. Damaged and waterlogged top-level floors were refurbished. Broken radiology equipment was replaced, and the facility was no longer on the verge of running out of food for patients.

The Joint Commission awards accreditation based on a hospital's performance in specific areas to assure that patients are cared for in a safe environment. It studies infection prevention and control, life safety, medication management, record of care and treatment, whether the rights of patients are observed and other factors.

In a statement, the hospital's board chairman and president, Eric Rieseberg, called the accreditation "a milestone" that affirmed the efforts of "thousands of people who have worked hard to restore the community's faith in our hospital."

David A. Catania (I-At Large), chairman of the D.C. Council's health committee, said in a statement that the notion that the hospital would be reaccredited in slightly more than a year "seemed unlikely at best, impossible at worst" and that its staff should be "commended for the phenomenal progress they have made."

In summer 2007, the hospital, then Greater Southeast, was on its death bed. Doctors walked off the job after they weren't paid, and the emergency room was forced to shut down for at least a day. City inspectors discovered a shortage of workers and functioning equipment so severe that patients could not be properly treated. City officials and residents feared that the only hospital east of the Anacostia River would close.

Throughout that year, the hospital's problems worsened.

The Joint Commission gave the hospital a chance to respond, but new managers brought aboard after the facility was purchased by SHA in November 2007 couldn't mount much of a defense.

In the past year, SHA has made numerous changes.

A few days before its accreditation became effective, the hospital's chief medical officer, Cyril Allen, said the change was revolutionary. "You can smell it. You can see it," he said. "The physicians are all coming back."

Lack of accreditation can sink a hospital's spirits. Doctors don't like working with non-accredited facilities. Allen said the hospital must overcome its bad reputation east of the Anacostia.

Frank G. DeLisi III, chief executive of United Medical Center, thanked the District government for providing the funding that helped the hospital rebuild.

"We understand that they were taking a risk in rebuilding this facility," he said, "and by receiving our accreditation, we have shown that it was a risk worth taking."

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