The D.C. Council narrowly voted Tuesday not to extend a multimillion-dollar contract for the company running the District's only public hospital, as lawmakers voiced concerns about allegations of mismanagement and a string of recent medical incidents that have raised questions about patient safety.
The 7-to-6 vote means that long-troubled United Medical Center in Southeast Washington will be in for more turnover in its management at the end of this month. The contract of the consulting firm running the hospital, Veritas of Washington, will end Nov. 30, Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) said.
The vote came after an intense flurry of last-minute lobbying by the Bowser administration on behalf of the firm, whose leaders were political donors to the mayor in 2014. Wayne Turnage, the city's health-care finance director, argued that Veritas had fulfilled its basic mandate of stabilizing the hospital's finances and that ending the company's contract would plunge the hospital into tumult.
But the slim majority of council members who voted to cut short the contract — which would have been worth an additional $4.2 million for Veritas — said those arguments ultimately did not outweigh more immediate concerns about the care being provided to the hospital's poor and predominantly African American patients east of the Anacostia River.
"Veritas's performance would never have been tolerated at another District hospital," said council member and health committee chairman Vincent C. Gray (D-Ward 7), who introduced the legislation to end the consultants' tenure at the hospital.
A spokeswoman for Veritas did not respond to a request for comment on the vote.
Bowser said in a conference call with reporters that UMC's board would have to move quickly to figure out who will take over the hospital by Dec. 1. The mayor and Turnage said the board would have to decide, among other things, whether to again hire an outside consulting firm to run UMC or directly hire its own executives.
Bowser said her administration was "focused on what the board for the hospital will have to do moving forward. They clearly have to be on a quick transition plan to have a new management plan in place at the conclusion of this contract."
Veritas, a company that has been in business less than three years, was awarded a no-bid contract to run United Medical Center — at a fee of $300,000 per month — in the spring of 2016. The contract also included expenses for two of the firm's out-of-state executives to commute to and from the District and rent apartments at National Harbor.
The firm is owned by Chrystie Boucrée, wife of Corbett Price, a longtime health-care executive who was previously chief restructuring officer at Interfaith Medical Center in New York City. In 2013, the New York State Department of Health barred Price's company, Kurron Shares of America, from continuing to manage the hospital after it entered bankruptcy.
Price, along with his relatives and companies, made more than $35,000 in political donations to Bowser in 2014, campaign-finance records show, including $20,000 in contributions to Bowser's inaugural committee from Price and Mantium, a Bethesda-based corporation registered in his name. In 2015, Bowser appointed Price to the Metro board, which oversees the region's public-transit system.
In early 2016, after UMC — which is owned by the District but is supposed to be financially independent — sought a taxpayer subsidy for the second year in a row, the Bowser administration decided the hospital's management model was not working and emergency action was needed. Turnage suggested to the UMC board that it hire an independent operator and recommended Veritas. The firm was given a no-bid contract. Turnage later said he had come to know Price after they met and bonded over their shared alma mater, Ohio State University.
The District is the company's only client.
Scrutiny of the hospital began to grow in August, when the city's health regulators abruptly shut the hospital's nursery and delivery rooms.
Although the city did not publicly disclose the reason for the closure, The Washington Post obtained, and published, a letter from D.C. Department of Health Director LaQuandra Nesbitt showing that regulators had uncovered dangerous medical errors in the treatment of pregnant women and newborns.
In September, The Post reported that at the time of its most recent contract review, Veritas was falling short in 41 percent of its performance metrics and had generated just $1.07 million of the $9 million in revenue the firm had said it could generate by altering hospital operations.
In October, the newspaper reported on the case of Warren Webb, a 47-year-old resident of UMC's on-site nursing home who died of a heart attack after calling out for help and being left on the floor by his nurse. The hospital also did not report key details of that incident to regulators.
Meanwhile, as the D.C. Council's health committee convened further hearings to examine Veritas's performance, several current and former hospital officials stepped forward to criticize the consultants.
Among them was Julian Craig, UMC's chief medical officer and past president of the Medical Society of D.C., who wrote a letter to the council and mayor Friday asserting that the firm's operation of UMC "has included both mismanagement and malfeasance that have adversely affected patient safety and quality of care."
Council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3) said Craig's allegations weighed heavily in her vote to disapprove the management contract.
"I think it's pretty clear what we have to do," she said from the dais Tuesday before the vote. "This is one of those cases, few in number, where the council does have to step forward and say no to a contract that's bad."
Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, who voted to extend the contract, acknowledged serious problems at UMC but said a leadership change would only further destabilize the facility.
"The hospital's a mess, and it's been a mess for a decade or longer," Mendelson said. "Here we are, we're going to change the operator, and I think there's a very real risk that we're creating instability."
Council members Gray, Cheh, Elissa Silverman (I-At Large), David Grosso (I-At Large), Robert C. White Jr. (D-At Large), Trayon White Sr. (D-Ward 8) and Charles Allen (D-Ward 6) voted not to extend the contract.
As D.C. officials plan for a change in leadership at the hospital, they will also be contending with a number of lingering problems. UMC's obstetrics ward remains closed, and the city's health regulators are conducting an investigation at the nursing home based on The Post's report on Webb's death.
Craig, in his letter to the council, made serious accusations about misconduct at the hospital, including what he alleged was an effort by Veritas employee Luis Hernandez to boost revenue at the hospital by admitting patients who did not need treatment. It is unclear whether those allegations could trigger further regulatory scrutiny.
Boucrée — whose cousin, David Boucrée, is currently serving through Veritas as UMC's interim CEO — has said that Craig's claims are untrue. In a letter to LaRuby May, the hospital board's chairwoman, Boucrée wrote that the board hired an independent legal team to investigate his claims when he first made them earlier this year and that Hernandez was cleared of wrongdoing.
An earlier version of this story incorrectly said that Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) recommended that the United Medical Center board award a no-bid contract to a management firm for the hopsital. That recommendation was made by Wayne Turnage, the mayor's director of healthcare finance. This story has been updated.