MedStar Washington Hospital Center, described by its chief medical officer as “the most important hospital in the most important city in the most important country in the world,” is under investigation by regulators in the District of Columbia due to maintenance failures that allowed sewage to seep down walls and onto operating room floors.
USA Today deserves credit for reporting on problems in the 900-plus-bed hospital, which serves many of the District’s poor as well as providing trauma care sufficiently vital that it is supposed to be the go-to place of emergency treatment for top officials.
Its elite patients have included House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, who was taken to MedStar Washington after a deranged gunman wounded him while shooting up a Congressional baseball practice. USA Today says a room where Scalise was treated, later, after he was out of it, was among those affected by maintenance and sanitation woes.
The news organization says, based on interviews and records it obtained, that the hospital, struggling with budget overruns, has been plagued by understaffing, personnel turnover (especially among its critical force of nurses), and maintenance and sanitation problems, including sewage leaks in critical care areas and strong odor woes.
USA Today says the hospital called a special staff meeting in February after four surgeries in which doctors or nurses left objects in patients—incidents the institution concedes occurred but has sought to downplay by describing the items as non-life threatening and including a sponge, a rubber retractor, a piece of a catheter and a “tiny piece” of a drill bit.
MedStar officials have assailed the overall negative news report, calling it flawed and inaccurate. But USA Today also has turned to published quality and safety data and ratings, noting how poorly the hospital fares in these, including for infections and surgical complications. The news report suggests that low morale and churn among the medical staff, especially the nurses, may be contributing.
District hospital regulators are investigating the hospital, apparently due to complaints and not a self-requested examination by the institution.
This would be the second major hospital in the nation’s capital struggling with woes and investigations. D.C. health officials recently suspended the obstetrics license of United Medical Center, which serves the poor and predominantly African American residents of the neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River. Officials have declined to make public exactly why. But news reports indicate the action occurred after officials received reports of poor and risky care at United.
In my practice, I see the huge harms that patients can suffer while seeking medical services, especially at hospitals that provide unsafe or poor quality medical care. My firm’s concern about hospitals in our area has grown enough so that we recently created on our site a new resource, an interactive super graphic, so patients can see important information and investigate for themselves the quality and safety of institutions in the metropolitan area, including in northern Virginia, the Maryland suburbs of D.C. and the District of Columbia itself.
Our site also provides resources on choosing a hospital wisely, how to skeptically evaluate institutions’ ratings, and ideas on ways to stay out of emergency and trauma care. Consumers also may wish to check out a recent Wall Street Journal report on ways hospitals might improve their ER services. There’s an accompanying interactive feature that allows you to see how long you’ll wait (and stew) in a given ER.