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The D.C. Council approved Monday a drastic reduction for the city’s only public hospital and rejected a top-ranked high school’s attempt to move to a new building during the first reading of the fiscal 2020 budget at the John A. Wilson Building in Northwest.

While the overwhelming majority of line items in the budget did not generate controversy, one regarding the United Medical Center (UMC), a taxpayer-funded, full-service hospital in Ward 8 that lies east of the Anacostia River, was an exception.

The council cut the subsidy for the hospital from $40 million a year to $15 million, and Ambrose Lane Jr., founder and chairman of the Ward 7-based D.C. Health Alliance Network, expressed his outrage.

“The management of the United Medical Center will not have to resort to staff cuts,” Lane said. “That will affect the health outcomes of residents who live in Wards 7 and 8.”

To some in the District, the UMC has become obsolete and a great deal of chatter throughout the city focuses on the proposed hospital that will be located on the St. Elizabeths East campus in Ward 8.

Council member Vincent Gray (D-Ward 8), chair of the council’s health committee and a strong proponent of a St. Elizabeths hospital managed by Universal Health Services, which also runs the George Washington University Hospital, authored the cut to UMC and got his wish.

Gray said his committee will hold hearings in the near future on how the UMC board will work within the parameters of the available $15 million and minimize the effects of subsequent reductions in staff and services for East End residents.

However, Yahnae Barner, vice president of the Service Employees International Union Local 1199, which represents 450 UMC workers, said the council’s action shows its insensitivity toward the hospital.

“Basically, we are looking at layoffs,” Barner said. “Services are being cut at UMC before a new hospital will be built in Ward 8 and what will residents east of the river do in the meantime. This doesn’t just affect residents in Wards 7 and 8 but everyone in the rest of D.C.”

Council member Trayon White (D-Ward 8) passed an amendment to the budget that would allow Howard University medical students and faculty to practice at the St. Elizabeths facility, over the objections of Gray, who said Universal Health Services and George Washington University have reservations about Howard students and faculty practicing at the St. Elizabeths facility.

Gray said Universal Health Services cannot be forced by the city government to take Howard students and faculty, adding that “one private organization can’t be forced upon another.”

Council member Elissa Silverman (I-At Large) attempted to pass an amendment that would allow employees of the St. Elizabeths hospital to unionize, but Council Chair Phil Mendelson (D) ruled her action out of order because of the lack of a fiscal impact statement.

Lane said he hopes the issue of Howard University’s medical school’s access will be resolved amicably.

Dozens of people dressed in black T-shirts with white writing signifying “District of Columbia Nurses Association” attended the hearing. The nurses association doesn’t want to endure UMC cuts and have made that clear to council members in the past few weeks.

Another large contingent at the budget hearing consisted of students and faculty at Banneker High School in Northwest. Banneker wants to leave its crumbling building at Euclid Street NW to relocate to the shuttered Shaw Junior High School building on Rhode Island Avenue in Northwest.

D.C. Council member David Grosso (I-At Large) passionately argued that Banneker deserved better facilities and noted its success as the leading academic high school in the District and one of the best of its type in the country. However, Mendelson argued that residents and leaders in the Shaw neighborhood have advocated for a new middle school for years and they deserve to have one.

The chairman said money for a new Banneker will be found in the near future but the Banneker contingent didn’t buy that. Nevertheless, the council voted 7-6, to reject Grosso’s amendment and Eric Henry Jr., a student at Banneker chastised the legislative body for doing that.

“I think the vote was unjust,” he said. “We have been waiting for a new school for the longest. We have waged this fight before and we have gotten knocked down again and that’s not fair. We deserve a new school.”

The council voted for the proposed budget, 12-0, with White voting present.

White said he chose not to vote for the budget because it didn’t support the aspirations of low- and middle-income residents, particularly Blacks.

“Our city is prospering but the gap between the haves and have nots is getting wider,” he said. “We need more funding for our public hospital and 10 out of 15 schools [in the East End] will suffer cuts.”

The council will vote on the final budget on May 28 before sending it to Bowser.

Congress will then review the city’s budget, which will take effect on Oct. 1 if approved by all parties.

James Wright photo

James Wright Jr.

James Wright Jr. is the D.C. political reporter for the Washington Informer Newspaper. He has worked for the Washington AFRO-American Newspaper as a reporter, city editor and freelance writer and The Washington...

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