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On Thursday evening, Aug. 17, about eight hours after the Aug. 18 edition of the Washington City Paper was placed at distribution points around our city, a dozen or so D.C. Health & Hospitals Public Benefit Corp. (PBC) patients stood in line at Union Temple Baptist Church in Anacostia. They were there to recount their health-care experiences at the PBC’s facilitiesD.C. General Hospital and our nine community-based health centers. They provided their testimonials as part of a community meeting designed to discuss options for the future of the PBC.
One individual recounted how she had gone to several other D.C. and Maryland hospitals, seeking help for her pain. She had no insurance, and all the institutions diagnosed her ailment as a common cold. When she came to the PBC’s Southwest Community Health Center, the providers there found reason to refer her within our system to D.C. General for tests, and they discovered that she had cancer. She still has no insurance, but her care is being provided by various components of the PBC.
There were similar testimonials, many about life-saving proceduresenough to fill at least a dozen pages in the City Paper, if all the details were gathered. But would that be a fair representation of the more than half-million patient encounters at PBC facilities over the past two years? It certainly would be fairer than the irresponsible portrayal by the City Paper in “First, Do No Harm,” the cover story in the newspaper that week. In that article, reporter Stephanie Mencimer calls into question the quality of care at our institution and is extremely derogatory about our medical staff. She provides the public a totally misleading assessment, citing anecdotal reporting about a half-dozen or so cases of medical treatment at D.C. General Hospital in recent years.
We accept the fact that, as a public institution, we will always be held to a higher standard of public scrutiny than most other health-care providers. In fact, we hold ourselves accountable for quality treatment of every patient who enters our doorsnot only because of accreditation and licensing requirements but because we are committed public-health providers who have made career choices to focus on public-health needs in a city where such needs are unfortunately very evident.
Any serious observer of modern health care knows that if a particular hospital is placed under the microscope, if lawyers’ documents, court claims, and available accreditation information are examined, the fact that human errors occur in medicine could add up to a damaging news story about that institution. What the City Paper has produced is an isolated report on only one institution in a city, without perspective on health care as a whole or nationwide efforts to reduce medical mistakes. It adds up to a malicious attack and appears aimed at destroying the institution and isolating our patients from the care they require and deserve.
I want to assure all patients of D.C. General Hospital and our community-based primary care centers, as well as the citizens of our nation’s capital city, that the PBC always has been strongly committed to the highest possible standards of care. This is our mission and our life.
I also want to emphasize that performance improvement never ends at the PBC. We have rigorous and extensive peer-review programs in place in all care disciplines, and our doctors and nurses participate in reviews of all unusual occurrences. Nevertheless, because standards and expectations become more demanding all the time, we will take additional steps in the coming weeks and months to assure our patients, our staff, our board of directors, and the community at large that all of our practices and procedures are being constantly reviewed and updated, and to make certain that our health-care delivery is second to none.
Chief Medical Officer
D.C. Health & Hospitals Public Benefit Corp.