The D.C. Council moved Tuesday to disapprove a contract extension for the consulting firm managing the city’s only public hospital.
Despite steady lobbying attempts by Veritas of Washington and Mayor Muriel Bowser’s office to keep the contract alive, city legislators severed ties with the managing company of United Medical Center in a 7-6 vote that blocked its one-year, $4 million contract extension.
“There’s an expression: Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me. Shame on us if we vote to approve giving another $4.2 million to Veritas,” Council member Elissa Silverman (I-At Large) said before voting to disapprove the contract.
Veritas began managing UMC operations in 2016 with the charge of stabilizing its troubled financial dealings.
The measure to disapprove Veritas’ contract extension came amid questions about the company’s performance after the D.C. Department of Health ordered the sudden closure of the hospital’s obstetrics ward for 90 days in August due to critical lapses in patient safety procedures.
The council has called held three hearings regarding the hospital’s operations and the contract since the closing of the obstetric ward.
“Nothing from those hearings has led me to believe we have the right team in place at the hospital to improve the quality of patient care,” said Council member Vincent C. Gray (D-Ward 7), who introduced the resolution to disapprove the Veritas contract. “If Veritas is truly the best we can get for the money we are paying then we need to invest more dollars in better provider.”
Opponents of the disapproval noted that the hospital has been in financial disarray for more than a decade and argued that abruptly ending the contract could cause more instability.
Though the testimony of hospital officials did not convince a number of council members that the firm had fulfilled its duties, Department of Health Care Finance Director Wayne Turnage said he had “complete confidence” in Veritas and their performance.
In the days leading up to the vote, a number of high-ranking current and former UMC officials, including the chief medical officer, a former chief operating officer and former quality director, spoke out against Veritas, alleging the company undermined efforts to improve the quality of patient care.
But Bowser and Turnage said UMC’s board had an independent evaluation done to review the allegations and found nothing to substantiate the claims, though neither of them has seen the review.
The hospital board will have less than a month to make arrangements for its operations. The current Veritas contract expires on Nov. 30.
Bowser said she is confident the board will be able to make be able to make decision that will keep UMC in operation beyond the end of the current contract and ensured that the city would provide needed resources.
“There can’t be a gap, otherwise the hospital will close,” Bowser said. “The bottom line is the council has the prerogative to cancel a contract, and that’s what it’s done. It is a short time period for the board to react to ensure that we have continued operation at the hospital.”