The United Medical Center (UMC) board voted Thursday against renewing the hospital’s obstetrics ward after the D.C. Department of Health (DOH) restricted the license on maternity services in August due to critical lapses in safety protocol.
Veritas of Washington LLC, which is temporarily contracted to manage the hospital after the Council voted to oust it as the UMC’s permanent overseer in November, presented the board with serval options regarding its obstetric unit. But the board ultimately voted to not to seek renewal of the restricted license to reopen the ward.
“We remain committed to the residents and patients of this community,” said UMC board Chair LaRuby May.
The board said low patient volumes and the large portion of patients that entered the unit through the emergency department, often without prenatal care, made it too costly to provide to provide the level of staffing required to care for patients and their newborns.
UMC had the lowest count of births in 2016 with 365 births being performed at the hospital, while in the same year MedStar Washington Hospital Center delivered 3,564 babies, George Washington University Hospital had 3,127 deliveries and Howard had 968.
“The unfortunate reality about OB is this: long before the DOH decision to restrict [obstetrics at UMC], mothers made a conscious choice not to deliver their babies at UMC,” May said. “We will work with the DOH through this transition period and look forward to doubling down our efforts to deliver high-quality in all the other services that we offer at United Medical Center.”
The UMC board voted to close the units just hours after voting to request a $17 million city subsidy to compensate for its dwindling revenue and cash reserves; to pay for its contract with George Washington to take over the behavioral health unit, emergency department and inpatient care; settle a payment dispute with the nurses’ union and to repay the government after overcharging Medicare.
For months, UMC leaders examined what would become of its maternity ward. Meanwhile, Providence Health System in Northeast announced that it would be closing its obstetric unit.
The closures raised questions about access to maternity services, especially for the District’s low-income residents.
Howard University Hospital entered a partnership with Unity Health Care clinics in November to expand access to maternity care in D.C.’s underserved areas.
City leaders have pointed to the fact that there is an oversupply of obstetric beds in the District, but others have argued that they are not well dispersed enough to fill in the gaps.
“It is clear that UMC is suffering from a lack of vison and leadership from its board and the current administration,” said Council member Vincent C. Gray (D-Ward 7), who chairs the council’s health committee and has been critical of UMC operations since the license restriction. “In this instance, it is the would-be mothers on the east end of the District who will be most disadvantaged from the resulting lack of essential obstetrical care.”
The three options presented to the board included not reopening the obstetric ward, reopening the ward under its previous model with limited dedicated staff and services or reopening under a “women’s approach” to provide a full pipeline of services with dedicated staff to the unit.
The board said it did not want to repeat the previous model and will consider revisiting the reopening the unit using the women’s approach model at a later time when they believe they have the time and resources necessary.