Southeast Area Hospital Poised for Auction

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Unless its current owner – or another patron – quickly steps in and rescues the beleaguered facility, the District will forge ahead with plans to have United Medical Center in Southeast Washington foreclosed.

Attorney General Peter Nickles, who recently filed notice against the 17-acre property, said the measure would allow the hospital to be auctioned on July 9.

“We are the primary investor in the hospital and are committed to keeping the hospital open,” Nickles told the {AFRO}. Nevertheless, “we’re going to foreclose on July 9 and we’ve already done a substantial number of things to shore up the financial situation at the hospital.”

According to Nickles, the New Hampshire-based Specialty Hospitals of America, which purchased UMC in 2007, defaulted on several payments to the District. And that, according to court papers, has brought the hospital close to the brink of financial insolvency.

Legal documentation also states, "Despite [the city’s financial] investments, however, either through mismanagement or lack of good faith, [Specialty Hospitals of America] misrepresented UMC's financial outlook until the end of 2009 and failed to disclose the existence of pertinent information.”

The city intends to grab up the hospital during the auction, and – until a new buyer steps in – operate it as a public facility.

Currently, there is no public hospital in the city, and UMC, located in close proximity to the Prince George’s County line, remains the only major medical center in the Southeast area.
The Ward 8 area is also rife with a multitude of time worn buildings and homes, and UMC’s own debilitated outward appearance cries out for a facelift.

The facility, which was previously known as Greater Southeast Community Hospital, has served the area since 1965. SHA chairman Jim Rappaport said it was renamed “because of a variety of problems and issues,” namely that the hospital had lost its accreditation and was within months of closing before Specialty took over.

Two years ago, it underwent a massive $15 million overhaul that that also resulted in a full rebranding, and the hospital’s emergence as United Medical.

But Rappaport, who said the for-profit SHA is rolling up its sleeves for a good fight, accused the city of being less than truthful about UMC’s status. “The District is making claims that it’s owed money when in fact it is not,” Rappaport said pointedly, “and we will be asserting our claims in writing.”

He further accused the District of playing political games. “Unlike Nickles’ office, Specialty has been focusing on patient care and efforts to turn the facility around.”

Those efforts, he said, include equipment that works for the first time in more than a decade. “When we took over, 75 percent of the equipment was broken,” Rappaport said.

“We very naively thought that [city officials] were going to be our partners and that they cared about turning this hospital around,” he continued. “Right now, the hospital has had its three best months in over a decade because of what Specialty came in and set up to move it forward.”

Other papers filed in support of the foreclosure call for dramatic improvements in UMC’s quality of care.

Also, due to mounting financial difficulties, the city has contended that despite having been supported over the years by hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars, the hospital has become too much of a burden.

Southeast residents James Hines, 53, and Mary Tate, 64, both said UMC has yet to up the ante in providing quality care.

Tate complained to the {AFRO} that she was told during a recent visit for a broken toe nail that later became infected, there was nothing the staff could do. “They just kind of looked at my foot and told me to go home and soak it,” Taylor said. “I wouldn’t have come over if I didn’t have to, and I surely wouldn’t recommend anyone else.”

Hines chimed in, “It’s all about good medical care and most people I know who live around here don’t get that. But they come because this is the only hospital in the area. I’d hate to see it close, but that might be a good thing until the right people take over.”
When asked about residents’ concerns Rappaport responded there was apparently some misinformation floating around.

“I’m not sure what they’re talking about because I don’t think that’s accurate,” he said. “Sure the hospital still has a way to go upon improvements, but if you go by the mere fact that the emergency room, for example, has increased the number of patients it actually sees, then the number [in the past couple years]has doubled.”

He also noted that the number of potential patients who leave without being seen has dropped from about 15 percent, when Specialty assumed ownership, to fewer than 3 percent.

“Those are remarkable improvements in the quality of care,” he said.