A D.C. Council committee voted to subpoena witnesses and materials connected to a consulting firm that ran United Medical Center, a rare step that suggests an aggressive new phase in the council’s investigation of the District’s troubled public hospital.
The council’s health committee on Tuesday approved subpoenas for the testimony of four top officials with the consulting firm, Veritas of Washington, as well as recordings of hospital board meetings over the past three years.
Committee chairman Vincent C. Gray (D-Ward 7) and council members Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3), David Grosso (I-At Large) and Brianne K. Nadeau (D-Ward 1) voted to approve subpoenas. Council member Brandon T. Todd (D-Ward 4) was the sole no vote.
The committee had previously asked the four officials — Corbett Price, Chrystie Boucree, David Boucree and Luis Hernandez — to appear voluntarily at a public hearing. Chrystie Boucree and Hernandez sent letters declining, while Price and David Boucree did not respond, committee staff said.
“The cooperation that we asked for we just simply didn’t get,” Gray said. “This gives us the ability to move forward.”
Price and Chrystie Boucree did not respond to emails and calls seeking comment. David Boucree and Hernandez could not be reached for comment.
UMC Corporate Secretary Michael Austin said in an email that the hospital “intends to fully comply with the subpoena, and sharing the relevant documents that are within our possession.”
Veritas was awarded a no-bid contract to turn around UMC in the spring of 2016. The company is owned by Chrystie Boucree, whose husband, Price, is a longtime health-care executive who had previously overseen troubled hospitals in New York and Maryland.
Price, his relatives and affiliated companies made more than $35,000 in political donations to Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) in 2014. They also donated approximately $6,000 to Todd’s council campaigns from 2014 through 2016. Todd, explaining his vote, said he wanted to have more time to review revisions to the resolution that were made at the last minute Tuesday.
The full council voted in November not to extend the Veritas contract, citing concerns about patient safety and allegations of mismanagement at UMC, a District-owned hospital that caters to the poor and predominantly African American residents of Southeast Washington and Prince George’s County, Md.
Before the vote, The Washington Post had reported on multiple lapses in care at the hospital and its attached nursing home, including the death of a man who was left on the floor after crying out that he couldn’t breathe and dangerous medical errors that led regulators to temporarily close the hospital’s obstetrics ward. The hospital board voted to permanently close the unit in December.
The Post also reported that Veritas — which was collecting a fee of $300,000 per month — had failed to meet many of the city’s standards for managing the hospital and had delivered only about one-tenth of the $9 million in extra revenue it had promised to generate.
Shortly after the firm’s contract was canceled, the hospital, having burned through most of its cash reserve, was forced to request millions in taxpayer subsidies.
Four former or current hospital executives have spoken out against the company, saying it had not paid adequate attention to quality of care. Julian Craig, UMC’s chief medical officer, further alleged that Hernandez had directed doctors to admit patients who did not actually need treatment to drive up revenue and admissions figures.
Veritas officials have defended their management of UMC, citing the hospital’s long-running financial struggles. In November, when Craig made public his accusations of inflated admissions, Chrystie Boucree said that the claims had been investigated and that Hernandez was cleared of wrongdoing.
The hospital board later fired Craig, who is now suing UMC and Veritas.
D.C. Healthcare Finance Director Wayne Turnage — who recommended Veritas to the hospital board — has blamed UMC’s financial struggles on declining admissions that he says have resulted from negative publicity for the hospital following the closure of its nursery and delivery rooms and media reports on other problems.