District officials have dropped a lawsuit that sought to stop Providence Hospital from closing, removing the last major obstacle to plans by a nonprofit health-care chain to shut down most services at the Northeast Washington facility.
Last week, a D.C. Superior Court judge closed the case, following a motion by D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine (D) to dismiss the suit.
Racine’s office filed its complaint against Providence and its owner — Missouri-based Ascension Health — in December, at the height of uproar among D.C. residents over the pending closure. But in early January, the attorney general indicated in court documents that the city was satisfied with plans submitted by hospital officials for shutting down most services and in a March 1 filing voluntarily dismissed the case.
A spokesman for Ascension did not respond to requests for comment.
The lawsuit’s conclusion was first reported by the Washington Business Journal.
Providence is operating an emergency department and a small number of inpatient beds, as well as other services. It plans to close the existing hospital by April 30, although some primary care and mental-health services will continue, as well as the Carroll Manor nursing home. The group is also seeking to open an urgent care center on the site of the hospital.
Stephen Frum of National Nurses United, which represented roughly 250 nurses before the shutdown began, lamented the city’s inability to stop Ascension’s plans and said the loss of services would exacerbate unequal access to health care.
“We have this wild disparity in health outcomes on the east and west sides of the city, and we’re cutting services on the east side of the city,” he said.
He said more could have been done to save the 283-bed hospital if officials in the D.C. Department of Health — which oversees medical facilities — had acted earlier.
Officials at the health department and in the office of Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) did not respond to requests for comment.
The impending Providence closure comes at a time of instability in the city’s medical services. City officials are trying to close United Medical Center — the long-troubled public hospital in Ward 8 — but a deal to replace it with a new hospital east of the Anacostia River has hit turbulence.
In September, Providence officials informed the city that they would not seek a renewal of the hospital’s license when it expired Dec. 14.
LaQuandra Nesbitt, director of the D.C. health department, asserted that she had no authority to stop the hospital from closing. That led D.C. Council members to pass a law that expressly gave her that authority. Amid political pressure, Ascension officials agreed to keep Providence open through the spring.
Racine’s lawsuit was a last-ditch effort to prevent the closure. But after a hearing on Dec. 20, Judge Geoffrey M. Alprin denied the city’s request for a temporary restraining order, saying the city had not shown any urgency in stopping the closure after it was first announced in the fall.
“They did not file anything or communicate with either Ascension or Providence that they were going to reject the closure,” Alprin said. “They knew it was coming, and it came.”