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Gray Hails End of Federal Oversight at St. Elizabeths as Victory for Local Autonomy

Will Gray's successor make budget autonomy suit moot? (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Will Gray's successor make budget autonomy suit moot? (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Mayor Vincent Gray is hailing an agreement between the District and the Department of Justice ending federal oversight of Saint Elizabeths Hospital as a “milestone” in his administration’s effort to loosen the federal government’s grip on local affairs.  

On Thursday, the DOJ asked to dismiss a court-enforced settlement agreement that put the feds in charge of overseeing patient care at the city’s public psychiatric hospital. Deadly patient-on-patient assaults in 2005 placed the long-troubled facility on the DOJ’s radar for civil rights violations.  

Federal officials oversaw the hospital for seven years, as D.C. worked with the Department of Behavioral Health to stop patient abuse and neglect and improve care and treatment. Under the terms of the June 2007 court order, St. Elizabeths was required to meet 224 performance benchmarks related to clinical discipline assessments, discharge planning and other problems. The agreement also required the hospital to submit bi-annual reports to DOJ and undergo bi-annual site visits. “This joint motion with DOJ is a recognition that we are providing high-quality, recovery-focused treatment at Saint Elizabeths Hospital,” Gray said in a statement, celebrating the end of the oversight agreement that began under then-Mayor Adrian Fenty. “It also is one more milestone in my administration’s record of ending federal oversight of local government functions.”  

Following the settlement agreement, Saint Elizabeths significantly increased its number of clinical staff, developed better training programs and installed an electronic medical records system. In 2010, the hospital moved from multiple, aging buildings into a new, state-of-the-art facility. D.C. also lowered the population at Saint Elizabeths Hospital by nearly 50 percent.  

“This was a huge team effort by clinicians, administrators, and support staff,” Dr. Patrick J. Canavan, CEO of the hospital, said in a statement thanking DOJ. “These changes benefit some of the District’s most vulnerable residents and reflect our commitment to them and their families.”  

After the suit is dismissed, the local protection and advocacy group University Legal Services will continue to monitor St. Elizabeths.  

Gray notched the news as the latest victory in the District’s push to regain control of city services that have been placed under federal oversight following lawsuits and investigations. Since Gray took office in 2011, federal oversight of community-based public mental health services and special-education busing has ended.  

Court oversight remains in effect for programs at multiple District agencies, including in special-ed, child welfare, and disabilities services.

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