Editorial

EDITORIAL: A Looming Health Care Crisis in D.C.

Are Wards 7 and 8 residents fully aware of the health care crisis about which Council member Vincent Gray, chair of the DC Council’s Committee on Health, starkly warned at a recent community meeting hosted by the Ward 8 Democrats? As a matter of fact, how much do most District residents really know about the impact on health care the impending closure of two hospitals serving Wards 5, 7 and 8 are having on the entire city?

Health and community activists are shouting the warnings by holding a series of community meetings to inform residents and to demand answers from health care providers, city leaders, hospital workers and others about their response to this growing crisis. Meanwhile, MedStar Washington Hospital Center, Howard University and George Washington Hospital emergency rooms are reportedly spilling over with patients in need of care.

Some believe the crisis began when two city-run hospitals – D.C. General which closed in 2001 due to bankruptcy, and United Medical Center in Southeast, soon to be closed due to mismanagement and an old facility – placed a severe burden on other area hospitals unprepared to care for the city’s most indigent patients. To make matters worse, Providence Hospital in Ward 5, and UMC both closed their obstetrics units last year, forcing pregnant mothers from the eastern part of the city to go elsewhere to deliver their babies. After announcing plans to shut down Providence in December, its St-Louis-based parent company Ascension agreed to allow the emergency room to remain open until April, but only for low-acuity patients.

With plans to build a new 106-bed East End hospital in Ward 8 on the campus of St. Elizabeths scheduled to open 2023, Gray warns, and others fear that not enough is being done soon enough to address a critical need growing worse day-by-day. But the City Administrator has made it clear that with the closure of UMC, when the East End Hospital opens, the District plans to hand it off to a for-profit private company, Universal Health Services, which runs GWU Hospital and end its involvement in the hospital business.

This is just the tip of the iceberg, as other issues escalate including ensuring the agreement allowing Howard University medical students to train at the new medical center will be enforced; that patients will receive appropriate care and attention by UHS; and that employees from UMC will be given priority for positions by UHS.

Residents say they want a full-service hospital at St. Elizabeths but who will decide what those services will be?

We urge Mayor Bowser to address these issues formally and to direct her health-related directors to do the same. Healthy outcomes begin with trust in the healer, but that trust starts with leaders who will shape the future of health care in D.C.

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