Wayne Turnage, D.C.’s Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services, joined a Zoom call this week with more than 70 Ward 8 ANC commissioners and residents updating them on the new hospital at St. Elizabeth’s East slated to open in 2024.
Turnage opened the presentation with stark statistics revealing Wards 8, 7 and 5 having the lowest life expectancy rates among all residents of the District’s eight wards. Specifically, Ward 8 has the shortest life expectancy at 72 years, compared to Ward 3, with the highest at 87.6 years.
He listed health conditions among the predominately Black and poor in Wards 7 and 8 and then pointed to the lack of a quality health care system as a significant contributing factor. United Medical Center, the area’s nearest hospital, has served its purpose, he said, but it is an old facility that has been in decline since 2011 when he came to D.C. It is inefficient to operate, it lacks a physician referral network and the revenue losses determine services based upon costs and not the needs of the residents.
For these reasons and more, the commissioners voted to offer a letter of support for the new $306 million, 136-inpatient bed, full-service GW Hospital at St. Elizabeths. In addition to care, questions arose regarding construction and other job opportunities and ways small businesses could support the new hospital system.
Undoubtedly, a new health care system is greatly needed east of the Anacostia River. The morbidity issues Turnage outlined, including obesity, high blood pressure, cancer, diabetes, heart disease, infant and maternal mortality and drug abuse, can be treated in the new hospital. Still, prevention must be the mission if eliminating disparities is the ultimate goal. A life lost to homicide or suicide, which rank highest in Wards 7 and 8, cannot be treated, but access to preventive services does not need to wait for a new hospital to open.
For several years, the District has assessed the health of its residents to determine how to address residents’ health care needs.
“The DC Community Health Needs Assessment (CHNA) helps us and our community partners in identifying the best strategies for leveraging assets and serving the needs of the many populations living in the District,” D.C. Health Director LaQuandra S. Nesbitt wrote on the DOH website.
But to what end, we ask?
Ward 8 residents have historically demonstrated harmful disparities among most indicators for decades. Yes, a new hospital will surely make a difference for its sickest residents but it is not the remedy for creating a healthy community.