The unexpected death of one financially ailing District of Columbia hospital may ultimately provide a cure for another.
A dozen physicians who had privileges at Doctors Hospital, which declared bankruptcy last month, have requested and been granted the right to admit patients to Capitol Hill Hospital, which has been losing money at the rate of about $10,000 a month.
About 50 physicians -- most of them affiliated with Doctors Hospital -- attended a reception at Capitol Hill Hospital Wednesday evening, toured the facility and discussed the possibility of getting privileges there.
"Doctors Hospital folding is clearly a wretched, wretched thing for them," said Dr. Keith Manley, medical director of Capitol Hill. "But if [those physicians] do come over, obviously it would be nothing but good for this hospital."
The additional 12 physicians already will increase Capitol Hill's staff of 200 by 6 percent. About 600 physicians have been practicing at Doctors Hospital, and while it is highly unlikely that all would apply for privileges at Capitol Hill, it would be a godsend to the hospital if any significant number does.
Capitol Hill, which is now filling only about 190 of its 250 beds, could expect to increase its admissions by up to 300 patients a year for each additional physician.
What is even more important for the ailing hospital is the fact that these patients, admitted by private physicians, would all be covered by insurance. The hospitals' financial problems have been caused in part by having too many patients who have no insurance or too little.
Capitol Hill currently is conducting preliminary discussions with Greater Southeast Community Hospital about a possible corporate merger of the two hospitals, with Capitol Hill trying to improve its financial position and Greater Southeast -- which is still in the black -- hoping to make up for patients now being lost to two new hospitals in Prince George's County.
According to Dr. Karl Jonas, chief of staff at Doctors Hospital, "The traditional pattern in Washington has been for doctors to have multiple hospital" admitting privileges, so very few physicians at Doctors have been left out in the cold.
While some physicians at Doctors still have privileges at major medical centers, such as George Washington University Medical Center and the Washington Hospital Center, they have lost the less expensive hospital where they sent patients who need less exotic hospital care, such as a hernia operation.
Capitol Hill charges about $100 a day less for a room than some of the city's teaching hospitals, and thus may be attractive to physicians who need such a facility.
Additionally, the closing of Doctors Hospital will be a major blow to the 110,000-member Group Health Association, which last year hospitalized about 2,200 patients there.
According to Dr. Edward Hinman, director of the prepaid health care plan, Capitol Hill's relatively modern physical plant appeals to Group Health physicians, but its location on Capital Hill is a district disadvantage to the physicians who practice at GHA's headquarters a block from George Washington University Medical Center.
"What I have to do is try to match our requirements with reality," said Hinman. Though there are transportation problems involved with Capitol Hill Hospital, he said that Group Health would like to have a less expensive facility where it could send patients who do not require the sophisticated, expensive facilities of a teaching hospital.