City clears GW Hospital of charges

District investigators have cleared the GW Hospital of charges that it tried to refuse treatment last year to a black woman, University officials announced Tuesday.

The D.C. Department of Health found no evidence that the hospital’s emergency room attempted to close its doors in October to a 97-year-old Anacostia woman suffering from diabetic shock.

The results of the investigation, which was completed Nov. 26, were disclosed by University Provost and Vice President for Health Affairs John Williams in a letter published in Tuesday’s ByGeorge!

D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams called for an investigation into hospital practices after paramedics told the Washington Times that GW’s emergency room arbitrarily closed its doors Oct. 15 without notifying city officials.

On busy nights, emergency rooms often go on “re-route,” which allows them to divert ambulances to other District hospitals for two hours so they can treat existing patients.

But city officials said they were never notified about the hospital’s closure and accused GW of discriminating against minorities from poor neighborhoods.

Hospital officials, who insisted in the days after Mayor Williams called for an investigation that they notified city officials about the closure, said they felt vindicated by the results of the inquiry.

“I think clearly there was a major misunderstanding perpetrated by the press,” Dr. Williams said.

Officials from the Department of Health and Mayor Williams’ office could not be reached for comment.

While the University was notified about the investigation’s results two weeks ago, officials decided to wait until the start of the semester to inform the GW community, said Barbara Porter, director of Medical Center Communications and Marketing.

Dr. Williams said the hospital would probably not bring legal action against the Times, which initially reported in October that the 97-year-old woman died after waiting in an ambulance for 30 minutes outside the hospital’s entrance.

The woman, who was immediately admitted into the emergency room, “spent a couple of days” in the hospital but “left in good shape,” Dr. Williams said.

“I don’t think it’s even worth it at this stage of the game,” Dr. Williams said of filing suit against the Times.

Times Assignment Editor David Eldridge would not comment on the investigation but said the newspaper “stands by (its) reporter.”

“Our stories were based on the reactions and concerns of the emergency personnel driving the ambulance,” Eldridge said.

The GW Hospital has held “productive meetings” with paramedics and other city officials to clarify hospital procedures to make sure there is no confusion in the future, Dr. Williams said.

“We have had ongoing discussions with the leaders and unions representing the paramedics, and I think things are at a much better footing,” he said.

The closure of D.C. General Hospital and Greater Southeast Hospital’s financial troubles has led GW Hospital to forge closer relationships with District hospitals to alleviate a surge in emergency room visits, Dr. Williams said.

“There has been a lot more cooperation with other hospitals,” he said.

Last year, GW Hospital saw a 27 percent increase in visits, according to D.C. Hospital Association statistics.

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