A law of force hospitals to close excess wards was proposed yesterday by Albert P. Russo, the District's acting human resources director, as a step to deal with the city's growing problem of unneeded hospital beds.
He suggested this in testimony favoring many parts of a D.C. Council bill that would prevent hospitals and doctors from building or installing needed medical facilities.
District hospitals last year were just under 80 per cent occupied, leaving hundreds of empty beds. Health officials say the number will grow because of hospital expansions under way or planned in the District, Maryland and Virginia. They say excess beds are a leading cause of rising health care costs because the beds and buildings have to be staffed and paid for wheather they are used or not.
Along with officials of Blue Cross-Blue Shield and the D.C. Hospital Association - the hospitals' group - Russo favored far tougher standards for getting a "certificate of need" than anything the District requires now for any building, expansion or medical equipment worth more than $150,000.
The Council bill - drafted by the Hospital Council and introduced by Council member Polly Shackleton - would cover the growing number of costly machines in doctors' offices, a subject of increasing controversy all over the country.
Doctors say they need the equipment, but critics say the equipment is unnecessary, that doctors make money off it and it adds to health care costs. Health planners are widely urging extension of state certificate of need laws to cover doctor's offices.
D.C. Medical Society officals did not testify yesterday before the Council Human Resources Committee which Shackleton chairs. Franc Ferraraccio, society executive director, said the group must study this part of the bill.
Shackleton said she introduced her bill "as a starting point (after) we waited for two years for DHR to write a bill and they did nothing." The bill would require that applications for certificates be reviewed first by public members named to a State Health Coordinating Council, then by the District's health planning agency - currently DHR.
Russo suggested several amendments, mainly, he said, to make the bill "less rigid" and to give more control to his department and less to the coordinating council.
He also urged cancellation of a certificate after a year if there is no "documentary evidence of substantial progress" toward construciton.
Jacqueline Johnson, one of his chief deputies, said Russo's proposal to close excess beds is not fully - developed, but "an idea we want to air so we can get some discussion on just how to do this."