Hospital’s owners paid lobbyists as tax bill rose

June 22, 2010

By Jim McElhatton, The Washington Times

The parent company of United Medical Center, which has received about $100 million from D.C. taxpayers in recent years, continued paying big fees to its cadre of lobbyists last year even as millions of dollars in local and federal taxes went unpaid at the Southeast Washington hospital.

Specialty Hospitals of America, a for-profit company based in New Hampshire, paid at least $300,000 to the lobbying firm Carmen Group, according to local and federal lobbying disclosure reports. The expenditures came at a time when the finances of United Medical Center were becoming increasingly dire, public records show.

Last year, for instance, the Internal Revenue Service placed a lien for more than $3.8 million for unpaid payroll taxes against Capitol Medical Group, which is owned by Specialty Hospitals. Those weren’t the only unpaid bills.

Other bills included about $160,000 in water and sewer charges and separate liens by contractors Dominion Mechanical Contractors and Hitt Contracting Inc., which said they hadn’t been paid hundreds of thousands of dollars each for construction and other work at the hospital.

The financial problems have D.C. officials considering auctioning off the hospital as early as next month, just a few years after it emerged from bankruptcy under previous owners.

Vanessa Dixon, a local health care organizer at the D.C. Health Care Coalition who has long favored having a public hospital in Washington, said the lobbying expenditures don’t make sense to her when so many other bills are piling up.

“It’s a case of misplaced priorities,” Ms. Dixon said. “Lobbying is a luxury. It’s not clear to me what they’re doing with their money.”

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