Loose Lips

Hospital Blues

United Medical Center

If you want to buy a hospital with a history of losing money in an economically depressed part of the city, you’d better be willing to spend some cash.

That’s the takeaway lesson from the tale of George Chopivsky, 63, an entrepreneur who has been operating psychiatric hospitals around the country for three decades and now wants to buy the only full-service hospital in the District that’s east of the Anacostia River.

Chopivsky has spent a small fortune trying to better his chances of buying United Medical Center, the long-troubled hospital on Southern Avenue SE. It’s been a money pit for years and is on track to continue to be so—or else it’s recently started to turn a corner, depending on who you believe.

“I like a challenge,” says Chopivsky, who falls squarely in the former category and thinks he’s has the skills to make an underperforming hospital profitable. “I really do think—I’m convinced—that we can turn this thing around.”

The District took control of the hospital last summer, after Specialty Hospitals of America, the company brought in with the help of more than $80 million in city funding to save the former Greater Southeast Community Hospital proved it couldn’t. (One of Chopivsky’s companies is currently suing Specialty, and has won a $10 million arbitration award.)

Now Chopivsky is eager to convince the city’s leaders to hand him the keys to UMC, and by doing so enter into a partnership of sorts with a hospital that’s too important to the District’s overall health care apparatus for politicians to let it fail.

Chopivsky has been paying high-powered lobbyist David Carmen’s company $35,000 a month for help, lobbying records show. In total, Chopivsky has paid the Carmen Group nearly three quarters of a million bucks since 2009, though not all of that money has gone towards Chopivsky’s hospital-buying efforts.

Chopivsky has also hired Linda Greene, whom The Washington Post’s Reliable Source gossip column says is Mayor Vince Gray’s girlfriend, to build up goodwill in UMC’s neighborhood. According to the Office of Campaign Finance, which tracks lobbyist disclosures, Greene was paid $37,500 over a six-month period during the last half of 2010; she lobbied Gray and several councilmembers, as well as then-Attorney General Peter Nickles, last summer, according to OCF. Greene says much of her job was introducing Chopivsky to the powers-that-be east of the river.

“He’s a very nice guy,” says Greene (who tells LL she won’t discuss the nature of her relationship with Gray). Chopivsky says hiring Greene was part of his “due diligence” in getting to know the community served by UMC.

“I needed someone to introduce me,” he says, adding that Greene did a “damn good job” and saying that whatever her relationship is with the mayor is immaterial.

Chopivsky’s also been a generous political donor. He gave—either personally or through his company United Psychiatric Group—nearly $10,000 to local pols last campaign season. His donations include a $1,000 gift to Gray’s transition fund.

But will all this spending pay off for Chopivsky? Can he convince politicians to take a chance on a guy who has never owned an acute- care hospital and isn’t part of a wider network of hospitals that would offer more security, financial backing and peace of mind?

It’s too early to say, but Chopivsky’s got a couple things going for him. First and foremost is a group of powerful District officials, including Gray, Chief Financial Officer Natwar Gandhi, and Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans, who have all made clear they want UMC off the city books as fast as humanly possible. Bolstering their case are warnings from Wall Street that owning UMC might hurt the city’s bond ratings.

Standing in Chopivsky’s way, though, is At-Large Councilmember David Catania, who is on a one-man crusade to make UMC the greatest hospital on God’s green earth—and thinks Chopivsky is way out of his league and has “no business” trying to “swoop in” and buy a hospital so important to residents east of the river.

“I’ve yet to see the case for change,” says Catania, who has gone back and forth with Gandhi over what UMC’s true financial prognosis is.

Catania says UMC has turned the corner and is improving services on an almost daily basis. He wants it to be left alone for two years so it can prove to a hospital group like MedStar or Johns Hopkins that it’s a desirable asset. Under then-Mayor Adrian Fenty’s administration, he might have gotten his wish with little fuss.

But Gray has already started trying to push some of Fenty’s appointments off the hospital’s board, as the Post first reported this week. Catania probably isn’t doing himself any favors in terms of making political allies when he tells LL there are ways of managing health care in the District “without selling my people out. And that was intentional what I just said.”

While Catania’s sharp tongue might get him into trouble, Chopivsky comes with some legal and business baggage that might scare off some skittish pols.

Take for example, Berks Behavioral Health, a Chopivsky venture in Reading, Pa. In March 2008, the Reading Eagle ran a story about Berks’ plan to take over a struggling psychiatric wing of a hospital and expand it to fill a growing need for adolescent psychiatric services. Fast forward to the present—Berks is in bankruptcy court locked in a nasty legal battle with the hospital about who exactly is to blame for the failed partnership.

In one tartly worded filing, the hospital’s lawyer says “it was the lack of attention to the needs of their company and the incompetence of the owners and managers of Berks that are the reasons that Berks is in its current position.” Chopivsky says the hospital’s to blame, and Berks ultimately proved to be a successful operation that was sold for a profit last year.

There have also been problems in Kansas, where another one of Chopivsky’s ventures went bankrupt after a string of legal problems. The Chopivsky-owned Kansas Institute agreed in 1992 to pay more than $78,000 to settle a case brought by the Kansas Attorney General’s Office, according to the Kansas City Business Journal. Without the Kansas Institute admitting or denying wrongdoing, the settlement came after the attorney general alleged the Chopivsky venture had charged “patients for testing services that the attending physicians had ordered not to be performed.”

The institute was also dinged by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for not giving patients “a complete psychiatric evaluation that estimated intellectual functioning and orientation,” and one of its doctors was convicted of fraud, according to published accounts from Kansas.

When the Kansas Institute filed for bankruptcy in 1994, its lawyer said the action was taken because its bank was being unreasonable, but the hospital would not close. Less than a year later, the Kansas Institute closed its doors for good. Chopivsky says the Kansas Institute faced a “perfect storm” of cascading problems, particularly a bogus charge of sexual misconduct against one of its doctors, that led to the hospital’s demise.

Another Chopivsky enterprise, Dartmouth Hospital in Ohio, faced similar problems. A local watchdog group reported in 1993 that Dartmouth was charging $22,808 for each case of psychosis it treated, which was more than twice the average charged at surrounding hospitals. Chopivsky says he doesn’t remember the report.

Court and city records also show that Chopivsky’s been sued twice by former employees for failure to pay their wages and was slapped with a tax lien in 2000 for not paying more than $100,000 in District taxes. Chopivsky attributes the tax lien to a bookkeeping error he says was quickly resolved.

Chopivsky says he’s proud of his record as a businessman, and says the occasional “bump or scrape” in a lengthy career isn’t out of the ordinary and shouldn’t be any concern for the city’s decision makers.

“Things like this happen,” he says.

That may certainly be the case, but the episodes still give Catania more ammo to store in his own personal Alamo. “[Chopivsky’s] very good at making promises, it’s the execution where he comes up short,” Catania says.

Got a tip for LL? Send suggestions to lips@washingtoncitypaper.com.

Photo by Darrow Montgomery

  • Paul Tuft

    I'm baaack. Except this time my name is George Chopivsky.

  • Drez

    Romantic entanglement with a lobbiest seeking access to critical city assets and probable yearly in perpetuity payments to support those critical assets?
    What we have here, at minimum, is the appearance of a conflict of interest.
    It's impossible that Gray doesn't see this.

  • Drez

    If this was Fenty, there'd be a One City dog pile by now.
    WTF?

  • Sally

    So the Mayor is banging a woman who's also lobbying him to sell UMC?

    And he's taken action to help her lobbying efforts by asking for the resignation of UMC board members who don't want to sell the hospital to his bed buddy's boss?

    And no one has a problem with this astoundingly blatant conflict of interest? If the Office of Campaign FInance doesn't open an investigation, then it doesn't deserve to have any budget since it's clearly useless. If the Inspector General doesn't launch an investigation, then he should just resign as spineless.

    Or maybe Trout can add it to his Parks & Rec report which was due about 6 months ago.

    One City, Zero Standards.

  • SEis4ME

    Drez, you think?

    And hiring a personal friend as your, I mean, the city's AG is not a conflict? Of course it isn't. It explains why you never had an issue w/it or any other Fenty "perceived" shadiness.

  • drez

    SEis4ME
    Gray is the mayor now. Yelling Fenty! whenever Gray stumbles (and everyone stumbles) is a cheap distraction.

  • Rake

    drez, the issue here is that Gray has been in office for a little over a month, and has done nothing but stumble. Calling attention to the lack of progress - actually forget about progress, even forward momentum, is not a cheap distraction, it's reality.

    ONE CITY, with process, but not progress.

  • Rake

    Sorry Drez- I agree with you - was referring to SEis4Me and the rest of the ONE CIT-idiots.

  • noodlez

    I SEE THE SHITIDIOTS ARE STILL HERE!!

    YALL MOFO’S LOOKING AROUND EVERY CORNER, PEERING IN EVERY KNOT HOLE LOOKING FOR SOMETHING, ANYTHING TO STAMP ON MAYOR GRAY TO GET THEIR "GOTCHA" MOMENT. PRESSING HIM OUT TO MAKE DECISIONS IN A MANNER THAT GOT US IN THIS PREDICAMENT LIKE THE WORST MAYOR DC EVER HAD GOT US INTO. DOUBLE EDGE SWORDING HIM LIKE TYPICAL WHITEYVILLIANS THAT NEVA WILL AGREE WITH ANYTHING HE DOES.

    YALL A FUCKING JOKE!

    @ drez-YOU GETTIN LAZY HOMEBOY. YOUR COMMENTS HAD SOME DEPTH TO THEM. NOW YOU POSTIN SHIT LIKE A CHEAP ASS PRODUCT FROM CHINA! ENOUGH WITH THE DOLLAR STORE COMMENTS AND SAY SOME SHIT WORTH SAYIN. BY THE WAY THE CUT OFF FOR FENTY BLAME IS FOUR MONTHS IN. SEEING AS FAGGIE FENTY TOOK CREDIT FOR MAYOR WILLIAMS ACCOMPLISHMENTS WELL INTO HIS 3RD YEAR.

  • Sally

    You know Gray's in trouble when even noodlez can't come up with a good defense.

  • Rake

    @Sally, when has Noodlez come up with anything other than the standard, uncreative insults, offensive language, rote statements blaming Fenty for everything? Never, to my knowledge.

    ONE CITY, with Noodlez talking nonsense for all.

  • noodlez

    TYPICAL SHITIDIOTS!!!

    WHY DEFEND SOMEONE WHEN THEY HAVE DONE NOTHING WRONG!

    YALL KEEP REACHIN'. WHEN YOU FALL FLAT ON YOUR FACE FROM OVEREXTENDING DONT WORRY I WILL BE THERE TO STICK MY FOOT UP YOUR ASS!

    @Rake-YOUR FAKE ASS BUTTON DOWN COMMENTS SOUND LIKE A WAPO COMMENT LIFER WHO JOINED AN UNRULY WCP MOB BY HAPPENSTANCE. HOWEVA WHEN STANDING ALONE YOUR COMMENTS MIRRORS A JAKE FROM CLEVE PARK LOOKING FOR SOME BLACK LOVE IN TRINADAD @ 3AM.

  • Rake

    Noodlez - be creative - get witty, or at least as witty as you can. Post something of value. $%itidiots? If that's the best you can do, I am sorry.

    And re:A JAKE FROM CLEVE PARK LOOKING FOR SOME BLACK LOVE IN TRINADAD @ 3AM - you sure seem to refer to this stuff a lot - projecting?

    BTW, I'm in ward 6. You?

  • SEis4ME

    DREZ, if I read correctly, you introduced the former mayor into this dicussion. When I chimed in kind, then discussing the former mayor becomes off limits?

    Uhm, ok.

    Point is, it was well noted that you rarely had a criticism of Fenty, even when things were murky. It was stated over and over again that when Gray takes office, you would find any and everything wrong w/what he does - even if it's the same as his predecessor.

    So the fact that you would point out what would happen "under Fenty" while cyberbanning (if you will) anyone else from making the same comparison is evidence that you are doing, exactly what we said you would.

  • SEis4ME

    And yes, having a longtime family friend serve as your personal the city's attorney is much worse than this sir.

  • noodlez

    @Rake-NO FOOD COLORING OR TANNING SALON CAN DARKEN UP YOUR WONDER BREAD COMMENTS. HOWEVA DONT LET ME OR ANYONE DISCOURAGE YOU. YOU KEEP AT IT LONG ENOUGH AND IT WILL HAPPEN FOR YOU.

    NEXT TIME YOU AT EASTERN MARKET TRY SOME POTATO SALAD WITH MUSTARD. IT'S BABY STEPS BUT AT LEAST IT WILL START YOU DOWN THE PATH OF UNDERSTANDING. THE NEXT THING YOU KNOW YOU'LL BE ACTUALLY POSTING SOME SHIT WORTH READING.
    ALSO, SHIT LIKE "rote statements" IS A BIT MARTHAS VINEYARD WHEN YOU DEALING WITH THE OCEAN CITY CROWD. YOU MIGHT WANT TO TONE IT DOWN A LIL' HOMEY. JUST A THOUGHT.

    WARD 6. NOW THATS FUNNY.

  • Rake

    Noodlez, make one post, just one, without vulgarity and I'll bother to respond to you going forward. Or lose the all caps. Or conjugate verbs. Or understand basic economic concepts and development issues. I won't hold my breath.

    These ONE CITIDIOTS bore me with their constant ad hominem (is that Nantucket, or still Martha's Vineyard Noodlez - thankfully I have never been to Ocean City)attacks and lack of depth. If the posters on here are representative of Vince's base, god help us.

  • drez

    When in doubt, don't just yell Fenty!, also yell <Peter Nichols!.
    LOL Nice shift in strategy.

    Kinda nice to see you seem to agree this deal is shady, though.

  • noodlez

    @Rake-TO BE HONEST I HAD ABOUT ENOUGH OF YOUR FAKE ASS CONDESCENDING STATEMENTS. IF YOU ARE GOING TO THROW ROCKS DONT HIDE YOUR HANDS BEHIND YOUR BACK. YOUR ATTEMPTS AT SUPPRESSED DISCRIMINATORY RHETORIC IS BORING AND LACKS CAMOFLAGE.

    BESIDES THAT GARBAGE YOU POSTIN (ANTI-GRAY) AINT SAYIN SHIT FOR REAL! PLEASE DONT HOLD YOUR BREATH I DONT WANT TO BE SUED BECAUSE YOU MIGHT FURTHER INFLICT DAMAGE TO YOUR BRAIN.

    Rake=wackadoodle

  • Adrian Bent-Me

    So Drez, Rake, Sally, and others who are so up in arms against this man, what do suggest the City do instead with this "asset". Come on, let's here what genius suggestions you all can conjure up, cause ah, right now, it's a fucking money pit. It's draining the City coffers and there isn't another viable solution in sight. So the only person actually willing to come to the table and do something about it, is being criticized because he's done what every other businessman in the Country has done, hired consultants to lobby for him. Ok, you're pissed because one the person hired (who was hired before her relationship with Gray started) is possibly dating the mayor. So, because you bitches are bitter and angry, instead of the City getting rid of a troublesome and costly asset, you fools are suggesting exactly what? Come on, let's actually here what the alternative is, you stupid bitches.

  • Adrian Bent-Me

    Drez- you've also nicely avoided tough questions on Fenty again. I would say well-played sir, but it's your only fucking play, you fucking hypocrite.

  • 4OURFUTURE

    Let's see, 180 million dollar deficit in 2011,possible 600 million dollar deficit for 2012, and how long has this Mayor been in office. I get a chuckle thinking about these conveniently amnesiatic intellec's. Sally,Drez and Rape, I mean Rake, you all missed your calling's, you should have been comic book character's.

  • Anothernative

    In September 2009, then-Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) nominated Gennet Purcell, a friend of his wife's, as commissioner despite concerns from some D.C. Council members that the now 36-year-old lawyer didn't have enough experience in the insurance industry. Earlier that year, Fenty had appointed Will Purcell to the Contract Appeals Board, but he was stripped of that position after being disbarred in Maryland following an equity-stripping scheme involving a homeowner there.

    Is it me or does this sound like an all to familiar scenario, but you still have clowns that try to defend this chump because I guess they would rather live with a lie than admit making a mistake. Let's not forget, that we are living in the instant gratification age and processes and vetting take to long, they remind us to much of the bad old days a phrase which has become all to cliche, but it's still the boogyman code that is effective in triggering us to move as far away from tradition and conventional wisdom as possible. Where has this kind of thinking gotten us to date? Folk's let's stop being the teenager that's got to bump his or her head three or four times before they see the value of experience.

  • Rake

    4OURFUTURE: Vince rubber-stamped the budgets that created these deficits. He was council chair - he is somehow not involved in approving the budget? Please work on economics along with punctuation.

    Athornative: "Tradition" "Conventional Wisdom"? If by those you mean the tradition of schools not opening on time, and control boards? Before Williams, what did "tradition" get in 30 years of home rule? NOTHING. What have we gotten out of Gray thus far - less than nothing.

    There is a large difference between thinking Gray isn't doing a good job and being a Fenty supporter. Suggestion that one either love Gray, or is just some disgruntled Fenty-ite is a false choice. I neither love Gray, nor think Fenty was the end all be all. If given a choice, Tony Williams would be mayor for life.

  • Adrian Bent-Me

    Rake- you're a fucking idiot. So, even though Fenty had some fault, Gray had more right? Well, FYI: Gray, as Chairman of the Council, ran marathon sessions trying and for every year under his watch, managing to scale back some of the atrocious spending habits of Fenty. It wasn't Gray's fault that Fenty choose to route hundreds of millions of dollars in iffy contracts to his friends through agencies that required no council oversight. So yeah, selective amnesia is the only thing working for you here. You fucking idiot.

    Gray's been in office less than two months and is getting scrutinized for every fuck-up of Fenty's, while you douches choose to ignore 4 years of Fentyism.

  • Anothernative

    "Tradition" "Conventional Wisdom"? If by those you mean the tradition of schools not opening on time, and control boards? Before Williams, what did "tradition" get in 30 years of home rule? That's the problem with you Johnny come lately joker's, you think you know something about this city and you really don't. If you understood where we came from to get to this point, you would understand that we are still a process in developement, it's to bad we didn't have a political genius such as you to bring clarity in the beginning. What I mean by tradition is processes,something AF totally ignored and ultimately led to his demise. He couldn't see the need for that which would have put a harness on his haphazardness. I'll admit AW understood this but,believe it or not, he has his predecessor to thank for that.

  • Rake

    Athornative,
    This Johnny come lately has been in DC 33 years (although DC was still my residencem, I did attend high school, college, and grad school x2 out of the district). If you think process brings progress, I feel for you. You, and those who think like you, prevent DC from moving forward, educating its children properly, reducing unemployment, and eliminating big government EVERY DAY.

    AW's predecessor presided over (just in his final term, I won't touch the debacles that were his first few) skyrocketing murder rates, decreasing government functions, and a control board which stripped him of executive decision capabilities for nine city agencies. I guess if you think libraries, parks, and tourism are the main functions of a mayor then great, because that's all Marion could work with in his last term. Oh yeah, not to mention his priors (drugs) and futures (federal tax evasion).

    I'll choose not to believe it. Keep up the revisionist Marion history though - your ilk counts on it.

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