The D.C. Department of Human Resources has given the owners of Doctors Hospital one more year to complete its plans to relocate the facility in the Metropolitan Hotel in downtown Washington.
DHR Director Albert P. Russo announced the extension yesterday, saying that he hoped renovation work on the hotel would begin by May and thus end the long-stalled plans to find a new home for the 40-year-old hospital.
Russo also said the extra time should improve the chances for hospital's owners, Washington Medical Center, Inc., reaching an agreement with a local health insurance company that wants a new long-care facility for its 100,000 patients in the Washington area.
There already is a surplus of acute-care hospital beds in the city, and if the insurance organization Group Hospital Association, agrees to a joints plan with WMC, Russo said, fewer new beds would be provided.
"One of the advantages of this is that it reduces the number of hospital beds by 56," Russo said. "This is a clear go-ahead authorization to convert Metropolitan Hotel in to a replacement for Doctors Hospital.
"We've renewed it in order for them to get going on it," Russo said.
The plans to find a new home for the facility have been plagued with controversy because of the relationships between former DHR director Joseph P. Yeldell and Dominic F. Antonelli Jr., who at one time was on the WMC board.
The relationships between the two are subject of a grand jury investigation that is trying to determine whether Yeldell as DHR director undertook actions that benefited Antonelli financially in return for $54,500 in personal loans.
Among the actions reportedly under investigation is extension of the original certificate of need issued to WMC in 1973. He also approved a possible change in location of a replacement facility to a site owned by Antonelli, and, according to sources, joined Antonelli in pressuring GHA to join in a permanent relationship with WMC.
Russo said yesterday that great cautions has been taken to avoid any conflict of interest in the present situation. Since April 4, Yeldell has not been DHR director, and Antonelli sold his stock in WMC, following the publication last year of accounts of his ties with Yeldell.
Yesterday's extension marked the fifth time - the second by Russo - that DHR had prolonged the life of the certificate of need issued by Yeldell in 1973. The certificates are required by any group that wishes to build a new hospital or make to major renovations in an existing one. Recipients ordinarily are expected to begin construction within one year.
Russo denied suggestions that WMC was receiving favorable treatment through the unprecedented extensions of the certificate of need. "Doctors Hospital has been a viable part of the District's medical center community for 40 years," he said. "It is the only hospital of 15 (in the city) that is a taxpayer.
"Sixty-five per cent of the employees are District of Columbia residents. It is a well-established institution. The issue is whether or not it is going to continue to exist."
Russo's action yesterday does not in itself clear the way for WMC to move Doctors Hospital, now located at 1815 1 St., NW, into the hotel facility at 1143 New Hampshite Ave.
WMC owns the hotel but the present hotel occupants have a 99-year lease and have taken WMC to court to try to remain in the hotel facility. No decision has been made yet on the challenge.
In addition, there is no certainty that GHA, which Russo said is considering at least two alternative plans to solve its care facility problem, will agree to join in a relationship with WMC.
Russo said yesterday that WMC has assured him that the new Doctors Hospital could meet the acute-care needs of GHA. But the health association has not yet committed itself to contract with WMC for the services its members require.
Russo also told reporters at his regular weekly press conference yesterday that he was not disappointed that city officials had not been consulted on the choice of a new director for St. Elizabeths Hospital.
HEW Secretary Joseph A. Calfano Jr. is expected to announce today that Dr. Charles E. Meredith of Augusta, Maine will become the new head of the federally run mental facility, whose operations may soon be turned over to the D.C. government.
"Viewed objectively, ST. Elizabeths is not the District government's responsibility," Russo said. "It is HEW's prerogative. My feelings are not in anyway ruffled by our not being involved."