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Announcement about New Hospitals Raises Questions

Agreements concerning what will eventually become two new state-of-the-art hospitals intended to bring equity to the District’s health care system have been solidified, the Bowser administration recently announced.

If all goes according to the plan, the newly constructed Howard University Hospital and St. Elizabeths East campus-based facility will open to the public within six years. However, some health equity advocates, including Ambrose Lane Jr. of D.C.’s Health Alliance Network, said city leadership hasn’t divulged much in its announcement.

Furthermore, they’ve questioned the degree to which the new hospitals, particularly the 136-bed hospital scheduled to open at St. Elizabeths in Southeast, will benefit residents east of the Anacostia River reeling from the health effects of structural racism.

“For me and the people in the Health Alliance Network, a level-four trauma center is a non-starter,” Lane told The Informer. “If the hospital that will be on the St. Elizabeths campus doesn’t address infant mortality and at-risk pregnancies, it’s a non-starter. If it doesn’t protect unionized workers, it’s a non-starter. If it doesn’t have a robust community benefits agreement, it’s a non-starter.”

Though he expressed some relief at the inclusion of an urgent care center in the hospital agreements, Lane remained critical about the completion dates of 2024 and 2026, respectively, for the St. Elizabeths and Howard University Hospital projects.

Additionally, Lane said that, as shown in the dearth of affordable housing and healthy food sources in low-income communities, the District hasn’t done enough to boost residents’ quality of life.

“Understanding the budget constraints due to COVID-19 highlights the failure of the District government in providing health equity to residents on the east end,” he added.

Both hospital agreements have been structured as public-private partnership deals, with Howard University Hospital collaborating with Adventist HealthCare, and Universal Health Services with The George Washington University [GWU] and The George Washington Medical Faculty Associates for the launch of the facility based on St. Elizabeths East campus.

The St. Elizabeths-based project has the potential of expanding to 196 beds, while Howard’s 225-bed hospital will include centers dedicated to tackling sickle cell disease, women’s health, oral health, trauma and violence prevention, and substance abuse.

Howard University Hospital and United Medical Center, as they currently stand, will remain in place until the completion of the new hospitals. In June, the D.C. Council is expected to deliberate on a full agreement developed by Universal Health Services, GWU and The George Washington Medical Faculty Associates for the hospital on the St. Elizabeths East campus.

The Bowser administration announced the new hospital agreements amid the novel coronavirus pandemic that, as of Tuesday, has infected more than 5,300 people in the District and claimed more than 260 lives, nearly half of which have been classified as African American.

Data compiled by the D.C. Department of Health shows that Wards 7 and 8 account for nearly 30 percent of local COVID-19 cases.

In recent weeks, health experts have alluded to underlying conditions affecting African-American communities as a key indicator of the coronavirus’ disproportionate impact. During a press conference Friday, Mayor Muriel Bowser followed suit, expressing what many have known to be the truth about the health care system all along.

“One of the frustrating realities is that we have the best hospitals and medical professionals in the world, and the lowest uninsured rates,” she said. “In theory, we shouldn’t have major disparities in care, but that’s not how it works. Generations of racism and discrimination have put Black Washingtonians at a major health disadvantage.

“Our hospitals aren’t evenly distributed across the city,” Bowser added. “Hospitals are one part of the system [and] should be relied on the least. People should be focused on prevention, and being able to access urgent care facilities and preventative care before getting to the doctor.”

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