The closure of Providence Hospital without any concrete plans to establish the health care village it has proposed would create a health care desert in Ward 5 and eliminate convenient access to health care at Providence for residents of Wards 4, 7 and 8, according to officials and advocates who cheered the announcement this week that the hospital would remain open.
Officials at the 408-bed Providence Hospital along Varnum Street in Northeast, which serves many low-income residents, announced the planned Dec. 14 closure has been delayed at least until April 30. They said the Ascension-owned hospital will continue to provide emergency services and 10 to 15 inpatient beds.
“I am ecstatic about this decision to delay the closing of Providence,” said Ward 7 Councilman Vincent Gray. “And I am deeply appreciative for the support of my Council colleagues to adopt emergency legislation to clarify the law that clearly indicates the Department of Health through its State Health Planning and Development Agency (SHPDA) has the authority to approve or disapprove the closure of a health service or health care facility.”
Using that clarification of its authority, the agency conducted a hearing on the proposed closure on Nov. 16. And while a final ruling has not been rendered, Providence clearly has heeded the council’s action and taken seriously the agency’s authority to stop a closure, Gray said in a statement.
Ward 5 Council member Kenyan McDuffie also applauded the decision by Providence to remain open.
“I thank the DCHA as well as the D.C. Department of Health and State Health Planning and Development Agency for their work on this effort,” McDuffie said in a news release. “I also want to thank everyone who fought to prevent the hasty December closure and in favor of a transition that prioritizes the health care needs of District residents, including National Nurses United, Metropolitan District 1199 DC, Medical Society of the District of Columbia, community members, Council member Vincent Gray and my Council colleagues.”
In October, McDuffie filed the Clarification of Hospital Closure Procedure Emergency Amendment Act of 2018 to provide clarity to the agency of their role when a hospital in the District seeks to close.
Gray co-introduced the measure and urged Mayor Muriel Bowser to immediately sign the legislation. He also encouraged the executive branch to quickly use its statutory authority to keep Providence open.
“I chaired a hearing on Oct. 10 in which the Department of Health asserted that it did not believe it had the authority to deny a notice of closure, even though my reading of the statute clearly points to the Department of Health having the authority to approve or disapprove a notice of closure,” Gray said. “What appear[ed] to be confusing the Department of Health is that language later in the statute requests that they assist in the patient transition process, which does not, to me, in any way negate the Department of Health’s authority to approve or disapprove the closure request.”
Although the council does not have the legal authority to change the Certificate of Need process, there was an urgent need to clarify the apparent ambiguity in the law, so that the Department of Health will use its existing powers to approve or disapprove the notice of closure, Gray said.
“This legislation also clarifies that assisting with the patient transition process does not preclude the Department from exercising its statutory authority to determine whether Providence should be allowed to close.”
Still, Gray and McDuffie — along with others — said what the announcement to delay closing means for the long-term remains unclear.
“While this delay is positive news, the future of the hospital remains precarious,” McDuffie said. “As we await further details, it is imperative that Ascension better communicate with workers, the public, government officials and all other relevant stakeholders.”
Gray said he’ll continue to work with his council colleagues to further delay the closing of Providence until at least Dec. 31, 2021, which is the goal for the opening of a newly constructed hospital on the East End of the city.
“Thousands of Providence patients live in Wards 7 and 8 and need to have accessible services until new alternatives are available,” Gray said. “In one of his most famous quotes, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, ‘Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane.’ Providence needs to embrace Dr. King’s profound statement as its operating philosophy and ensure that a commitment to just and respected care is reflective in all of its continuing services.”
Editor’s Note (as received Dec. 10):
Providence to Continue Providing Emergency Services through April 30
Reflecting its continued commitment to the residents of the District of Columbia, Providence Health System will operate its Emergency Care Center with necessary support services through the current flu season. The Emergency Care Center will remain open through April 30, 2019 and supported by services needed for emergency care, including lab, diagnostic imaging, respiratory care, discharge planning, and other ancillary services and support. All other Providence services not necessary to support the Emergency Care Center will end as planned on December 14, 2018. Providence will continue to provide services at Carroll Manor as well as primary care and outpatient behavioral health related services.
“This decision reflects our ongoing commitment to serving the needs of the community and was reached following conversations with our internal team, elected officials, the Department of Health, the DC Hospital Association and members of the community,” said Patricia A. Maryland, Dr.PH, executive vice president, Ascension, and president and CEO, Ascension Healthcare, the care delivery division of Ascension.
“To support the provision of emergency care, we will continue to provide an appropriate level of supporting services, such as laboratory, imaging and inpatient beds through the end of April,” said Keith Vander Kolk, Providence Health System president and CEO.
“Providence and Ascension remain committed to the District and are pleased to be able to respond to the community need for this extended period,” Dr. Maryland said. “We continue to build a new vision for the future and look forward to partnering with key local leaders in collaboratively building those plans.”
Providence Health System has been engaged in discussions with key local leaders, in addition to examining public and private data to thoughtfully understand and explore how it can best meet the evolving health needs of the District. As Providence embarks on this innovative approach to improve the health of the community, its focus will be inclusive of both health and services not traditionally considered part of health care but that have an impact on the health of individuals and communities.
“Changing the focus to providing preventive health and wellness services in collaboration with the community marks a new phase in Providence’s commitment,” Dr. Maryland said. “We want to truly improve the health and well-being of all persons in the community by taking a greater and more active role in their overall health care.”
“With that being the case, we will be transforming the services Providence provides with a focus on the specific needs of the community, including primary and behavioral health, senior living and health services, community outreach and engagement; and access to care,” Dr. Maryland said. “We will build on our longstanding history of servicing the District’s health needs by redeploying our resources, and we are committed to investing upwards of $30 million in the future of Providence.”