The D.C. Council postponed the vote on building a new hospital on the campus of St. Elizabeths East until the Dec. 18 legislative meeting. The decision to postpone took place on Tuesday, Dec. 4.
However, Howard University scored a major victory when a voice vote by the council passed an amendment posed by D.C. Council member Trayon White (D-Ward 8) that called for including the university’s medical school students, its students studying the health professions and professionals associated with the school to have access to the new hospital.
D.C. Council member Vincent Gray (D-Ward 8) offered the postponement to his “East End Health Equity Act of 2018” because of mounting concerns voiced by residents and community leaders from the Foggy Bottom neighborhood in Northwest regarding details of his bill. Gray’s legislation mandates that the George Washington University Hospital (GWUH) will run the St. Elizabeths East facility and its clinics in Wards 7 and 8. Also, and what has raised the ire of those in the Northwest community, is the additional mandate that GWUH will gain an additional facility at its flagship base that will include 270 beds in a tower-like structure.
In a seven-minute speech, White talked about the health problems that people east of the Anacostia River face as opposed to other areas of the city and that Howard medical students should have access to the St. Elizabeths facility because Howard specializes in dealing with the ailments of African Americans.
Gray signed onto White’s amendment as did all of the voting members of the council. D.C. Council members Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3) and Kenyan McDuffie (D-Ward 5) didn’t vote because Cheh teaches at George Washington’s law school and McDuffie was absent.
D.C. Council member Elissa Silverman (I-At Large) passed an amendment allowing workers at the St. Elizabeths facility to unionize and Gray passed amendments increasing the number of beds at the East End facility from 150 to 200 and decreasing the George Washington Hospital from 270 to 200.
The Howard University community initially opposed Gray’s bill with the school’s communications staff recently issuing a letter to alumni stating its position on the East End hospital. In summary, it indicated that Howard University Hospital would be adversely affected by the new hospital because Howard physicians and medical residents won’t have a fair shot to practice and train there “and it will decrease revenue and volume at [Howard Hospital], disrupt the pipeline of 750 minority physicians in training and threaten the viability of the College of Medicine and Howard Medical Center.”
The letter ended with the names and contact numbers for the members of the D.C. Council and D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D).
However, Gray told members of the Anacostia Coordinating Council at its Nov. 28 meeting that Howard medical professionals and students will have access to the East End Hospital.
“The new hospital will be available to Howard doctors; they will have privileges there,” Gray said. “The real issue that Howard has is that it isn’t the operator, but we will work to engage them.”
The St. Elizabeths facility will have 150 beds and the latest state-of-the-art medical technology. The hospital has been scheduled to open in 2023.
Gray envisions the St. Elizabeths facility to open in December 2021 and helped insure that by legislatively waiving the Certificate of Need – a process by which a health facility builder must prove that there’s substantial public need which generally takes months to complete.
The council voted 10-2 to support Gray’s bill on its first reading in November, with D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) and D.C. Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) in opposition. Both Mendelson and Evans support a new hospital in the East End of the city but don’t like Gray’s bill because of the opposition from Foggy Bottom residents.
Amos Jackson III, president of the Howard University Student Association, told the Informer that having access to the St. Elizabeths hospital is critical to the development of Black doctors.
“As the president of HUSA, I serve and represent Howard medical students and undergraduate students who want to attend the medical school. Having access to the East End hospital will help Howard continue its mission of training Black doctors,” he said.
Brandon Wheatley, a fourth-year Howard medical school student, points to the significant role the university plays in training future physicians of color says they should be allowed to work in the St. Elizabeths facility.
“We at Howard serve disadvantaged communities,” he said. “The city has to remember Howard’s legacy in that it would take patients that others didn’t want to serve. To not have Howard students at the East End Hospital is an affront to us.”
The Informer worked with the Howard University communications staff but could not reach Howard Medical College Dean Dr. Hugh Mighty for an interview.