Editorial

EDITORIAL: Coronavirus in a Health Care Desert

D.C. General Hospital shut down. Providence Hospital closed. United Medical Center will soon be closed. And, more than 250,000 residents in the nation’s capital’s northeastern and southeastern quadrants have been left without a full-service medical facility to address their needs in case of a medical emergency. Which brings us to the coronavirus, a major global medical health crisis that has reached the U.S. and caused nine deaths so far.

While there are no confirmed cases of the coronavirus in D.C. to date, Mayor Muriel Bowser met with members of her administration, the media and ANC commissioners throughout the city to outline a preparedness plan just in case an outbreak occurs in the District contributing to a possible pandemic with devastating consequences.

We commend the mayor for her leadership related to this crisis but for a huge population of District residents, a pandemic consistently exists from the likes of maternal deaths, the opioid crisis, heart disease, the flu and gun violence, to name a few of the current pandemics that are taking lives. Too many District residents constantly face the consequences from the lack of a medical facility nearby that can address their health care needs, and they face the reality that should a crisis occur, they may be the last and the least to receive needed health care because they have nowhere to go where their needs will be considered a priority.

Every day, residents in Wards 5, 7 and 8 are taken by ambulance routed or rerouted to medical facilities in D.C., Maryland or Virginia, depending on who has the room or resources to address their needs. United Medical Center still provides emergency services but only to stabilize a patient before redirecting them to other hospitals miles away where they can receive more comprehensive care.

The coronavirus represents a practice run for a potential pandemic that is providing health care officials lessons for what might happen if a real crisis occurs in the District. It should also be a wakeup call to the fact that District officials cannot delay deciding on the disposition and cadre of comprehensive services that will be needed and should be provided at a brand new medical facility slated to be built on the campus of St. Elizabeths sometime in the future. Clearly, the time frame is too long and knowing what services will be made available can no longer be treated as a secret held from those who must rely on these services the most.

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