Providence Hospital
**FILE** Providence Hospital (Courtesy photo)

Council member Vincent C. Gray (Ward 7) pondered over the news he’d heard earlier this summer when Providence Hospital announced plans to close acute care services by year’s end, continuing their previously detailed decision to exit inpatient psychiatric and obstetrical care services.

But when the hospital failed to send a representative to a recent hearing that Gray scheduled in his stead as the chairman for the Council’s Committee on Health – one which resulted in hours of testimony from residents and advocates on the negative impact the closure would have on those who live East of the River – he said that the situation, particularly a Dec. 14 date on which Providence said it would officially “transition out of all services,” (excluding its facility for nursing care and primary-care services) had grown to one best described as “beyond dangerous.”

But as the council member predicted, emergency legislation that he introduced with Council members Kenyan McDuffie (D-Ward 5) and Vincent Gray (D-Ward 7), was approved on Tuesday, Oct. 16. The Clarification of Hospital Closure Procedure Emergency Declaration Resolution of 2018 passed unanimously.

It now goes to the desk of Mayor Muriel Bowser who has 10 days to either sign or veto the bill.

For Gray, the differing views and controversy therein required greater clarity and the determination that D.C. Health has authority over a private hospital’s decision to close or end services.

“The issue that needed to be resolved was disagreement between the health agency and council members and how to actually interpret the legal language of a 1996 legislation that clearly requires hospitals and healthcare facilities to secure permission from State Health Planning and Development Agency [SHPDA] before closing.”

“I was amazed that the hospital did not appear to have done much, if any, preparation for the suddenly announced plan to close in December. Moreover, I was deeply troubled because Providence has been a hospital of choice for many residents in Ward 7. Closure would put greater strain on Washington Hospital Center’s emergency room services and would continue a disturbing trend over the last year in which hospital services in the eastern quadrants of the District have continued to be scaled back.”

“The decision by Providence to eliminate these services would further exacerbate the maldistribution of beds and further disadvantage people in Wards 7 and 8.”

During the recent hearing, D.C. Health Director Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt said prior to 1996, hospitals that wanted to close or end services were required to get approval from the city. However, the law changed in 1996. Now, she indicated and under current law, hospitals must only provide notice of their intent to close 90 days before the closure.

For District residents, the approval of the emergency legislation staves off the reduction, at least temporarily, of medical services sorely needed East of the River – already far less than adequate to meet the needs of residents.

“We know that it’ll be devastating if this hospital closes down. This simply clarifies that SHPDA has the authority to make that decision,” Gray said.

McDuffie echoed his sentiments.

“Everywhere I go in Ward 5 and across D.C., I talk to residents concerned about the proposed closure of Providence Hospital and equitable access to health care in the District,” he said. “Those who value Providence Hospital have been in the position of reacting to Ascension Health’s erratic and severe changes without adequate warning or an opportunity for conversation. It is long past time for [them] to be more transparent about their intentions.”

“With today’s Council action, there can be no question that the District’s SHPDA has the authority to approve or disapprove the closure of a hospital, and in doing so provide District residents with the transparency they seek. Today’s bill merely explains the process for hospital closures.

McDuffie added the following caveat.

“Providence Hospital employs approximately 1,300 people and has served over 22,000 people this year, 74 percent of whom are Black, 54 percent of whom are on Medicaid. The closure of an institution like Providence Hospital requires diligence and today’s legislation ensures that SHPDA is clear on its authority as well as its responsibility to District residents,” he said in a press statement sent to The Washington Informer.

In other news, with many questions still unanswered, the D.C. Council delayed its vote on a bill to regulate Airbnb in the District. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, who helped develop the bill, decided to delay the debate and vote on the bill until the Council’s next session, Nov. 13. Many of the questions came from D.C. Chief Financial Officer Jeffrey Dewitt who said according to his analysis, passing the bill would cost the District $21 million in annual revenue, potentially eliminating “nearly all current short-term rentals.”

Voters could see the bill as a ballot measure in 2020. Stay tuned.

WI Guest Author

This correspondent is a guest contributor to The Washington Informer.

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