Embroiled in bankruptcy proceedings and on the verge of losing its accreditation, Greater Southeast Community Hospital has enlisted the help of Washington Mayor Anthony Williams as the embattled indigent-care center attempts to prevent a capacity crisis in the nation's capital.
A senior member of Williams' administration and representatives of Greater Southeast traveled to Chicago last week to meet with officials of the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations, which has cited Greater Southeast for numerous violations since February 2002, when the JCAHO moved the hospital to "preliminary denial" of accreditation status.
The JCAHO meeting followed a surprise inspection in February that uncovered ongoing violations, including problems with assessment of staff competence, infection control, staff orientation and training and strategic planning.
On Feb. 28, JCAHO President Dennis O'Leary took the unusual step of writing to Mayor Williams, arguing that the D.C. government should "seriously consider appropriate constructive interventions that might help this hospital again achieve the community standard of performance maintained by other district hospitals."
Greater Southeast's accreditation status is only the latest in a string of troubles for the hospital. In November, Greater Southeast's parent company, Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Doctors Community Healthcare Corp., filed for bankruptcy protection, dragging along six hospitals in three states, Greater Southeast among them.
As the bankruptcy proceeds, so does the accreditation drama. Last week a JCAHO review hearing panel met with hospital officials as well as Washington Deputy Mayor John Koskinen and Doctors Community Chairman and co-founder Paul Tuft. The hearing gave Greater Southeast the opportunity to dispute the JCAHO's findings.
The 1989 winner of the prestigious Foster G. McGaw Prize for excellence in community service, 303-bed Greater Southeast, situated on the border of Washington and Maryland, is battling for its very survival. If the hospital loses its accreditation, it also could lose Medicare and Medicaid payments, which make up at least 70% of its annual revenue.
"If (the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services) decided that they could no longer pay the hospital, I don't know where the revenue would come from to keep it open," said Joan Lewis, senior vice president for the District of Columbia Hospital Association.
At deadline, Greater Southeast officials had not returned calls seeking comment.
If the hospital closed, Lewis and others said, facilities elsewhere in Washington would see a patient influx that could be difficult to manage. During the past three months, Greater Southeast has admitted a monthly average of 685 patients and had 3,000 emergency room visits.
A visit from city officials as part of an accreditation meeting is "very uncommon," said Joe Cappiello, the JCAHO's vice president of accreditation field operations. Cappiello would not say whether Greater Southeast disputed any of the JCAHO's findings, nor would he characterize the discussions.
The review hearing panel will report in June to another JCAHO committee that will decide whether Greater Southeast's accreditation should be permanently revoked.
It was unclear at deadline how many potential buyers might be interested in acquiring the facility. "Unless another healthcare organization (other than Doctors Community) with a great track record and adequate funding comes in, the hospital will close within 60 days," said Edward Krill, a lawyer representing the medical staff at Greater Southeast.