The D.C. government used new emergency legislation to shut down the Laurel abortion clinic yesterday, less than two weeks after a D.C. Superior Court judge denied the city's request for a temporary restraining order to close the facility because of alleged health code violations.
Acting under the orders of Mayor Marion Barry, the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs served notice to the owner, Dr. Milan Vuitch, that his license had been suspended and ordered that the third-floor clinic at 1712 I St. NW be closed immediately.
Under emergency legislation passed by the D.C. City Council last week, the mayor has summary authority to close an ambulatory surgical treatment center when violations pose a serious and continuing danger to patients' health, safety and welfare.
Vuitch said yesterday he intends to appeal the action, but declined to comment further. Under the new law, introduced by council member Polly Shackleton (D-Ward 3), Vuitch has 72 hours in which to file an appeal and seek an expedited hearing.
The District had failed to include ambulatory and surgical centers in a 1983 omnibus health facilities law, which gives the mayor the power to close unsafe facilities.
An inspection of the Laurel clinic Nov. 19 turned up "serious deficiencies," according to city officials, including unsanitary instruments, incomplete or faulty medical records, evidence that procedures had been performed without a licensed nurse on the premises and no proof that the clinic was covered by liability insurance.
The D.C. corporation counsel filed a criminal misdemeanor charge against Vuitch Nov. 15 for failing to keep accurate records regarding the use of general anesthetics. The charge carries a maximum penalty of a $300 fine and 90 days in jail. Vuitch was arraigned last Friday and pleaded not guilty. He is scheduled to stand trial next February.
In addition, the Healing Arts Commission, which issues medical licenses in the District, voted last month to revoke Vuitch's license, according to Fred Pinckney, an investigator with the commission. The commission has asked the corporation counsel to draw up formal charges against Vuitch.
The corporation counsel plans to continue to seek a court order to permanently close the clinic. On Nov. 16, Superior Court Judge Stephen F. Eilperin denied the city's motion for a temporary restraining order, saying the city had no recent examples to show there was an immediate danger to the public's health.
A hearing on the city's request for a permanent injunction will be held on Thursday.
The city began investigating the Laurel clinic after receiving complaints from former patients and a doctor at George Washington University Medical Center who treated some of the clinic's patients on an emergency basis.
The District first brought allegations of unsafe practices against Vuitch in a 1982 hearing before the D.C. Board of Appeals and Review. City officials cited a 1980 case in which a 32-year-old West Virginia woman died after an abortion at the clinic as an example of the clinic's improper use of anesthesia.
The hearing examiner ruled against the city in that case, noting that the city had failed to publish rules and regulations for the 1978 law that regulates abortion clinics.
Shackleton said yesterday that she was "very, very pleased" with the city's action in closing the clinic and said she was confident that the order would withstand any challenge.
"I'm not a lawyer or a judge, but it would certainly seem to me . . . that this clinic did not meet the standards," she said.