District regulators have ordered the only full-service hospital in Southeast Washington to stop delivering babies and operating its nursery for the next 90 days.
The D.C. Health Department is restricting United Medical Center’s license that allowed it to perform obstetrics and nursery care while the hospital implements a plan to improve those services, a spokeswoman for the agency said Tuesday. Regulators could lift the restrictions before the 90-day mark if the hospital makes the required improvements and passes an inspection.
Other services at the long-troubled public hospital, which serves some of the city’s poorest residents, are unaffected by the move.
District officials declined to say what prompted the suspension of services.
Tom Lalley, the Health Department’s communications director, said the agency was limited in what it could say about licensing decisions and referred questions to the hospital.
In a statement issued on Wednesday, United Medical Center said the license restriction came in response to “three seperate cases involving deficiencies in screening, clinical assessment and delivery protocols.” The hospital declined to provide more details on these cases, citing a federal privacy law.
Any baby already in the hospital nursery that needs long-term care will be transferred to other hospitals, according to the Health Department.
United Medical Center doctors can still assist in childbirth in certain emergency situations, although the hospital said patients should go elsewhere. For other deliveries, patients can go to one of the six D.C. hospitals west of the Anacostia River.
A recent Health Department report suggests there is enough space in those hospitals to accommodate expectant mothers. The 2014 report said about a third of the 15 OB/GYN beds were being used, on average, at United Medical Center.
The restrictions put in place by the city government do not preclude the hospital from other gynecological services.
Aides to D.C. Council members Vincent C. Gray (D-Ward 7) and Trayon White Sr. (D-Ward 8), who represent Southeast Washington, said they were investigating the situation on Tuesday. Gray blasted Mayor Muriel E. Bowser’s administration for what he called “unacceptably nonexistent” communication over the circumstances surrounding the suspension of obstetrics care.
“I am incredibly concerned that residents on the East End of the District no longer have the option to have their babies delivered at an East End hospital,” Gray, who preceded Bowser as mayor, said in a statement. “The continued struggles of United Medical Center highlight the unacceptable chasm in health equity that is currently a way of life for residents on the East End of the District of Columbia.”
As chair of the council’s health committee, Gray has advocated for more funding for a hospital in Southeast. He and Bowser, who defeated Gray in the 2014 Democratic mayoral primary, sparred over the issue this year, with Bowser insisting that the city should find a new operator before fully funding a new hospital.
Built in the 1960s, the facility that was once called Greater Southeast Community Hospital entered bankruptcy almost 20 years ago. Since then, it has been run by a string of different operators.
City officials have injected regular infusions of cash to keep the hospital afloat and have paid various consultants to overhaul its operations. This past spring, there was a new stretch of financial turbulence brought on by billing errors.
This story was updated Wednesday with a statement from United Medical Center.