When Washington's news media reported a severe shortage of medical supplies at the city's tuberculosis clinic last month, they attracted the attention of Mayor Marion Barry "in a dramatic way," according to the mayor's press secretary Alan Grip.
"The mayor called me at home," said City Administrator Elijah Rogers. "He called the situation deplorable and said he wanted it straightened out." Rogers then called in DHS Director James Buford and authorized the expenditure of "whatever it took" to equip the clinic until September 30.
When the shortages were publicized late last month, Dr. Hazel Swann, director of the city's TB program, said, "Media intervention is highly effective in Washington."
To make sure the clinic's problems had been remedied, Barry and top officials from the Department of Human Services (DHS) last week paid a visit to the clinic, located on the grounds of D.C. General Hospital. The entourage, including Rogers, Buford and Acting Health Commissioner Martin E. Levy, was greeted with the smell of fresh paint and the sight of full cabinets.
The needed supplies, including X-ray film and medicine for TB patients, were purchased on an emergency basis, said Swann, who noted that "Everything is under control." She has enough supplies, she said, to last anywhere from 30 to 90 days.
Swann said Buford authorized purchasing the supplies, including $17,000 worth of X-ray film, on the open market instead of through the normal requisition process. She also said Buford told her that vacant positions for an X-ray technician and investigators to follow up on TB patients will finally be filled.
During his tour of the clinic, the mayor questioned employes about working there. "I was just appalled at some of the things that were going on out here," he told the staff, referring to the shortage of medications and supplies.
As far as spending money to purchase supplies over the counter, which is more expensive than buying wholsale, Barry said, "It doesn't matter. Lives are at stake."
Barry also paid a surprise visit to the VD clinic next door, which also has had its share of supply shortages from time to time, and talked with the staff about their problems.
The shortages of medical equipment at city clinics stem from an empty DHS warehouse, said DHS Controller James Boyle. The city's cash flow problems led to a freeze on purchasing last summer. The freeze was lifted at the beginning of the year, but by that time, depleted supplies could not be replaced fast enough to keep pace with program demands, explained Boyle.
Buford told a reporter that the situation will be remedied shortly by "an infusion of new dollars" from the department's $13.6 million supplemental appropriation, part of the additional funds for the District recently approved by Congress.
According to Buford and Boyle, $3.4 million of that money will be used to fully restock the warehouse.
"On a one-time basis we'll get an allotment to stock the warehouse to the roof -- and will be able to work with a full warehouse instead of an empty one," said Boyle. He said he hopes to have 375 of the most commonly used items purchased and delivered within six weeks.