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U.S. Capital Has Closed Down the Natal and Nursery Services at Its Sole Community Hospital; Women Must Go Elsewhere

Dec. 26, 2017 (EIRNS)—The one community hospital in Washington, D.C. has closed its obstetrics delivery and nursery units, forcing women to seek services at facilities elsewhere, or do-for-self in childbirth. (There are other Washington hospitals, but no other one in the public category.) The District of Columbia-owned United Medical Center (UMC), last August closed such services, after deficiencies were identified, with a plan to reopen in 90 days or less, after improvements were made. Instead, earlier this month, the hospital board voted, in a secret ballot, to permanently shut the obstetrics ward. There is now no facility in Southeast Washington, home to many of the poorest in the nation’s capital, where women can give birth in emergencies, nor can they have emergency pre-natal attention. Howard University is trying to add another ten beds to its natal unit.

This shutdown of obstetrics is also occurring in hundreds of rural counties nationwide. Apart from citing deficient services (from lack of resources,) the argument often cited for closure is that there are only a "few" (dozens or hundreds) of birth cases yearly, to merit keeping facilities open at all. This rationale is exactly opposite of the principle embodied in what originally built up the U.S. hospital system, under the 1946 Hill-Burton Act. That act mandated a certain ratio of licensed beds and natal services per population, no matter what.

UMC was taken over by the District of Columbia in 2010, because of financial stress, as it now is again experiencing. Before that, the full-service D.C. General Hospital provided close to two centuries of excellent service from 1806 to 2001, but was deliberately shut in early 2001, in the name of city cost-cutting, with the connivance of Congress and the White House.