In August, the D.C. Department of Health issued a restriction to United Medical Center’s license ending its obstetrics care for mothers and infants in the poorest section of the city in Wards 7 and 8. The obstetrics ward remains closed and nearly 40 hospital staff were let go. Officials warned that it is uncertain if the unit will reopen in 90 days until Nov. 1 or some extended period after.
The problems with patient care in the OB unit reportedly rose to a state of emergency for DOH Director LeQuandra Nesbitt who warned the hospital board, health officials and staff earlier this year of her concerns about the quality of patient care and that she would take action if the standard of care did not improve. Neither Dr. Nesbitt nor UMC medical officials would offer the exact circumstances leading to the issuance of the restriction using HIPPA law reasons which frustrated Ward 7 Council member Vincent Gray, chair of the Health Committee, at a recent public hearing.
However, Gray was told by UMC’s chief medical director and others that the hospital has taken steps to transfer patients to maternity wards at other hospitals across the city, redirected mothers who present at UMC’s emergency room to other hospitals and establishing a corrective action plan leading to the reopening of the OB unit at UMC.
UMC delivers an average of 350 babies per year, and reportedly delivered about 170 babies before the department was shuttered last month. Other hospitals across the city, deliver approximately 2,000-plus babies per year, including Providence Hospital in Northeast, which in August announced its obstetrics unit is slated to close any day now.
Most disconcerting is the fact that nearly 60 percent of the pregnant mothers treated at UMC show up with little or no prenatal care — a trend that appears to be increasing in Wards 7 and 8. In fact, according to DC Health Matters, Wards 7 and 8 have the highest number of mothers who do not receive prenatal, without which their babies are three times more likely to have a low birth weight and five times more likely to die than those born to mothers who do get care.
The message from the District espousing the importance of prenatal care is not getting out. The problem is much greater than UMC. Mothers of all income levels need to know how to take care of themselves in order to deliver a healthy baby. We’ve seen the worst of times and indicators suggest that we are heading back there again.