Howard University Medical School students attend a D.C. Council legislative meeting on Dec. 4 to show support of Howard's inclusion in a Ward 8 hospital in northwest D.C. (Roy Lewis/The Washington Informer)
Howard University Medical School students attend a D.C. Council legislative meeting on Dec. 4 to show support of Howard's inclusion in a Ward 8 hospital in northwest D.C. (Roy Lewis/The Washington Informer)

George Washington Hospital officials halted negotiations in its operation of a new state-of-the-art health care facility in Southeast last week after the D.C. Council approved what council member Vincent C. Gray (D-Ward 7) described as “poison-pill amendments” to his East End Health Equity Amendment Act.

This recent development in longtime efforts to provide adequate health care amenities to Ward 7 and 8 residents has highlighted disagreements about which aspects of hospital operations should be privately discussed at the negotiating table, as opposed to in public council hearings.

Gray, a staunch proponent of the East End Hospital since his days as D.C. mayor, minced no words in explaining how concerns about Howard University medical students and United Medical Center (UMC) union workers could be resolved differently.

“I have always been a strong labor supporter and I previously committed to working to ensure that Howard University Hospital and its medical school remain viable,” Gray said in a Dec. 6 statement. “As I indicated at Tuesday’s legislative session, both issues could have been worked out in the language of the definitive partnership agreement which must be submitted to the Council for its review and approval.”

If passed and signed by D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D), the East End Health Equity Amendment Act would allow GW Hospital to circumvent the certificate-of-need process to open a new health care facility on the grounds of St. Elizabeths East Campus in Congress Heights by late 2021. In early October, Gray, along with fellow council members Trayon White (D-Ward 8), Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), Charles Allen (D-Ward 6) and Brandon Todd (D-Ward 4), introduced the bill.

At a Committee of the Whole meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 4, Gray begrudgingly postponed a vote on the bill after his colleagues approved amendments introduced by Council members White and Elissa Silverman (I-At large). In a letter to City Administrator Rashad Young last week, GW Hospital CEO Kim Russo said those measures jeopardized the hospital deal.

Silverman’s amendment, which passed 8 to 3, guaranteed jobs for unionized nurses and staff currently employed at UMC, located in Southeast. The council unanimously approved White’s amendment securing residency opportunities for Howard medical students to raucous applause from white-coated students who attended the hearing.

While speaking about his amendment in a Facebook Live video that morning, White, sitting at a desk in his office, briefly mentioned that Gray had expressed intentions of solidifying Howard University’s relationship with GW Hospital by similar means, though nothing had been etched in stone at that moment.

Days after news broke of GW Hospital officials changed their tone, White declined to comment on his plans leading up to Dec. 18, when council members would most likely vote on the East End Health Equity Amendment. He did, however, acknowledge the likelihood of a town hall about the future of the East End Hospital.

That town hall would more than likely be attended by residents confused about the current state of affairs and concerned about the future of health care for more 150,000 people living in Wards 7 and 8. Last year, UMC, the region’s sole health care facility, shut down its obstetrics unit amid scandal, prompting a D.C. Council investigation.

In the absence of specialized services at United Medical Center in Southeast, many Ward 7 and 8 residents travel to Georgia Avenue in Northwest to have their health care needs met at Howard University Hospital. In a collaboration with hospital administration officials, Howard students have also crossed the Anacostia River to gain experience at UMC, tending to patients suffering from a range of chronic ailments.

Without access to the East End Hospital’s patient base, students in Howard’s College of Medicine wouldn’t have access to a facility with the minimum volume required for accreditation.

Since GW Hospital’s announcement, Howard University College of Medicine Dean Hugh E. Mighty said he has maintained a wait-and-see attitude, as he still considers Howard’s involvement in the East End Hospital a matter to be settled between the D.C. Council and Universal Healthcare Services, Inc., operator of GW Hospital.

“Folks living east of the river need a hospital and right now they don’t have one,” Mighty said Thursday, hours after the release of Russo’s letter.

Mighty recounted past attempts to collaborate with GW Hospital on the impending East End Hospital where hospital officials expressed interest but didn’t provide specifics about how more than 400 Howard medical students and 260 residents would fit the health care provider’s plans for the new East End Hospital.

Those budding health care professionals, Mighty said, had been deeply involved in the lives of Southeast residents long before announcement of the East End Hospital.

“We were supportive in those efforts,” Mighty said. “We were caring for those patients. We send some of our specialists over in into that part of the District in partnership with Unity Healthcare. More than 30 percent of our patients are from Wards 7 and 8. We’re willing to deliver health care in Southeast — they deserve a hospital.”

GW Hospital didn’t return The Informer’s request for comment.

Sam P.K. Collins

Sam P.K. Collins has more than a decade of experience as a journalist, columnist and organizer. Sam, a millennial and former editor of WI Bridge, covers education, police brutality, politics, and other...

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