The D.C Department of Health issued a notice to United Medical Center in Southeast that required it to stop delivery babies and operating its nursery.
The obstetric and related newborn services will remain closed for the next 90 days so that hospital officials can work on improving these services.
If the hospital makes the required changes and passes a health department inspection, the restriction could be lifter earlier than the 90-day period. Health department officials declined to stay why the services were suspended.
United Medical currently stands as the only full-service hospital in Southeast.
A letter from health department Director LaQuandra Nesbitt, obtained by The Washington Post, explains the lapses in the patience care that led the agency to impose the closure on the facility’s obstetric ward.
The letter cites a case where United Medical staff did not properly monitor and treat a 35-week pregnant obsess woman with a history of blood pressure problems. It also stated the hospital failed to screen a newborn at the correct time after birth, and also revealed a case where United Medical Staff did not take the proper steps to prevent transmission of HIV from a mother to her baby by not delivering via Caesarian section or providing antiretroviral medical to the newborn.
A United Medical statement said three separate cases involving “deficiencies in screening, clinical assessment and delivery protocols” led to the closure, but privacy regulations preclude sharing specific details.
“[United Medical] had already initiated the process of transitioning from a Level III neonatal intensive care center and we will be working to ensure that all physicians and nursing staff have appropriate training in policy and procedures,” said the statement.
Some residents and even city officials seemed to be caught off-guard by the ward’s closure.
“My community was blindsided,” said Ward 8 Council member Trayon White. “Without question, there are serious issues at the [United Medical Center] that demand our immediate attention. However, I am also concerned there was no advance warning from the mayor that this suspension was under consideration, much less imminent.”
United Medical Center serves some of the poorest residents in the city. Ward 7 Council member Vincent Gray, who heads the council’s health committee, called the closure a “health equity” issue and said it “finally shines the spotlight on the inadequacy of health care services for East End residents.”
Like White, Gray expressed concerned about the health department’s lack of briefing on what led to the closure and the repercussions it would have on the affected community.
“The East End continues to face health disparities that would be unacceptable anywhere else in the District,” Gray said. “Now, the only hospital on the East End can no longer deliver babies and we have no timeline as to when it will be able to again.”
Gray, who has pushed for a new hospital east of the river and worked to have $300 million dedicated during the most recent budget process to the cause, called for the 2023 funding timeline to be advanced. He has also ordered a council hearing on Sept. 22 to discuss the closure.
United Medical encourages residents requiring emergency obstetric treatment to use other D.C. facilities such as Providence Hospital, which is thought to be the next-most accessible alternative facility to Ward 7 and 8 patients.
United Medical holds that the use of other regional medical facilities should not overwhelm the city’s health care system.
“Based on [the health department’s] Health Systems Plan, the District currently is well below capacity with regard to hospital beds and should be more than capable of accommodating [United Medical] patients in the interim at these other facilities,” said a United Medical statement.