The phrase “you can’t beat city hall” may ring true for some District citizens but it won’t stop the members of the DC Health Justice Coalition from taking their health care concerns to city leaders.
The ad hoc organization met Aug. 22 at the United Medical Center (UMC) to discuss its status as the only hospital east of the Anacostia River and what the new hospital that will be on the campus of St. Elizabeths East. The coalition made it clear they want UMC to be fully funded, as well as a say in the leadership and health care services of the St. Elizabeths hospital.
“We are committed to going down to the council,” Wala Blegay, one of the leaders of the coalition, said to roughly 40 people gathered for the meeting. “They think everything is set to go but we say the deal is not done.”
On May 28, the D.C. Council voted to give UMC a $22.1 million subsidy with money cobbled together from Councilman Trayon White (D-Ward 8) and Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) after fellow Council member Vincent Gray (D-Ward 7) proposed giving $15 million. UMC will close in 2023 while the St. Elizabeths facility will be in operation or close to opening at that time.
Christopher Hawthorne, who serves as the advisory neighborhood commissioner for single-member District 8E05 that includes UMC, said a watered-down UMC doesn’t serve east of the river residents well.
“At UMC, there is no trauma center, no behavioral issues staff and no cancer staff,” he said. “This downsizing affects mostly African Americans. In my opinion, we need both UMC and St. Elizabeths operating at the same time.”
In addition, UMC closed its obstetrics unit in 2017.
Ed Lazere, executive director of the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute, said the District government has the money to fully fund UMC.
“This city has a lot of money,” Lazere said. “We know there is money for a new hospital. Events DC has a surplus of $100 million.
“We are a city that gives money away in stupid ways such as giving tech companies subsidies they don’t need and we can tax all health care operators,” he said. “There’s money to save the hospital.”
The council will resume its operations on Sept. 16, the day before its first legislative meeting after the summer recess.
Ambrose Lane Jr., who leads the D.C. Health Alliance, said that he understands there will be a Committee on Health hearing dealing with the issues surrounding UMC in September.
He urged coalition members to attend the hearing.
“We need to go to that hearing so we can demand excess money in the city’s budget goes to UMC,” he said.