DC hospital releases audio recording of closed-door meeting to shutter OB unit

Washington, D.C.-based United Medical Center on March 6 released the roughly 3 ½ hours of audio from a meeting last December during which officials decided to permanently shutter the facility's obstetrics unit.

According to the recording, UMC board members considered three options for the hospital's OB unit: full closure, reopening the ward with limited offerings or reopening the unit as a full-service women's health ward.

The hospital officials said in the recording it didn't make sense for the hospital to pour additional funding into revamping the department for a number of reasons, among them being the OB unit's dwindling patient volumes, outdated health records system, and inconsistent reporting and peer review process.

The majority of the board, including UMC Board Chair LaRuby May, said they believed closing the OB unit was in the best interest of patients despite any potential political fallout over the decision, according to the recording.

UMC officials had previously rejected the release of audio from the board's closed-door December meeting, even threatening to sue the city to prevent its release. However, pushback from the city and several prominent publications, including The Washington Post and The Washington Business Journal, and city officials prompted the hospital to release the recording.

At the time of the December 2017 meeting, the hospital's maternity ward had been temporarily closed for roughly five months due to safety issues cited by district health officials. However, board officials reportedly decided to privately move forward with the ward's closure before regulators ordered the temporary shutdown in August 2017. It is unclear if the December meeting was the result of the board's prior plans to forge ahead with the OB unit's closure.

Roughly five sections of the recording dissolve into static. UMC board members claimed the edited portions are protected by attorney-client privilege because their lawyer provided advice to board members during those sections, according to The Washington Business Journal.

However, the OB unit may be reopened by the hospital's new management, Mazars USA, whose $5 million operating contract goes into effect this month. Mazars USA officials will reportedly re-examine UMC's fiscal year 2018 budget and determine if reopening the unit is a possibility, the Washington Business Journal reports.

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