Mayor Muriel E. Bowser's administration declined to give a public update Wednesday on progress it has made toward securing a new operator for the District's long-troubled only public hospital.
The city has until Nov. 30 to find an operator to replace Veritas of Washington, the consulting firm running United Medical Center in Southeast Washington. Despite lobbying from the Bowser administration on behalf of the firm, the D.C. Council narrowly voted last week not to extend the multimillion-dollar contract for Veritas amid serious concerns about care being provided to the hospital's poor and predominantly African American patients.
Council member Vincent C. Gray (D-Ward 7), who introduced the legislation to end the consultants' contract, requested an update on the city's progress in identifying potential new operators during a public hearing Wednesday.
HyeSook Chung, deputy mayor for health and human services, said UMC's board is considering "all options" but declined to provide any details.
"I am happy to have a conversation at length, offline," said Chung, who added that she was "not able to speak to the specifics" being considered by UMC's board.
Gray, who chairs the council's health committee, retorted that he would like the conversation about the public hospital to be held in public.
"Everybody, including yourself, is weighing all the options," Chung said. "I cannot speak on behalf of the board."
LaRuby May, a Bowser ally whom the Democratic mayor appointed chairwoman of the UMC board this year, told ABC 7 last week that finding a new operator before the end of the month would be "impossible."
"It's three weeks to do a whole lot of things," May said. "It's three weeks to stabilize a hospital from falling, from closing."
Gray called May's suggestion that the hospital could close because of the council's vote to end its contract with Veritas — which has three full-time employees working at UMC, two of whom commute from Florida and North Carolina at taxpayer expense — "unproductive" and said her comments were "scaring the heck out of people."
Chung did not refute May's comments, although she said the chairwoman "does not speak for us" and told Gray she also could not speak on behalf of May.
The options for replacing Veritas include hiring a different outside consulting firm or the UMC board hiring its own executives to run the hospital, which is the only one east of the Anacostia River. Gray said Wednesday that "several qualified operators" have reached out to his office about running the hospital.
When asked whether the board would extend Veritas' contract for the short term if it cannot find another qualified operator by the month's end, Chung repeated that UMC's board is "considering all options."
Veritas, a company that has been in business less than three years, is owned by Chrystie Boucrée, whose husband, Corbett Price, who along with his relatives and companies, made more than $35,000 in political donations to Bowser in 2014.
Chung also declined to publicly share details about UMC's obstetrics ward, which regulators closed in August after the hospital staff made several mistakes. Her staff said they could not guarantee the obstetrics ward, which delivered about 300 babies annually, will reopen.
"We will definitely follow up and share the progress that's been made," said Chung, declining to provide further details.
Visibly exasperated, Gray replied the hearing was "on the record today."
"I am trying to give people some information today," he said. "I am not asking you for information that doesn't exist. It's been a long time, and I am trying to find out what progress has been made."