Mayor Muriel Bowser has said that her proposed fiscal 2018 budget is a “road map for inclusive prosperity,” but Council member Vincent Gray, her predecessor and political rival, disagrees.
Just hours after sharply disagreeing with Bowser in the council chamber during a budget presentation, where the Ward 7 representative called the budget a “path that leads to nowhere,” Gray gave what he called the “State of Ward 7 Address” Thursday evening at Kelly Miller Middle School, where he continued his criticism.
Gray presented points from a 30-page action plan for Ward 7 composed of 53 initiatives to improve education outcomes, restore public safety, bring economic development and employment opportunities and improve overall quality of life in the ward.
Gray called for a larger police force, senior-citizen tax relief, raising D.C. TANF awards to the level provided in Maryland and grocery stores in Wards 7 and 8, but it was his remarks about health care east of the Anacostia River that garnered the largest applause.
“I will use [the budget] as a template and overlay to measure its potential effectiveness and its responsiveness to the people that I represent in Ward 7,” Gray said. “For example, are ‘D.C. Values in Action’ demonstrated in what the budget will do for health care on the east end? Is there evidence in this budget that will lead to construction of a new hospital on the east end?”
He said the answer to the questions is a “resounding no.”
“I have a bill that would require construction of a new hospital on the grounds of St. Elizabeths to replace the outdated United Medical Center,” he said.
He first proposed replacing the city-owned United Medical Center in Southeast with a new hospital on the grounds of the St. Elizabeths campus when he was mayor, but could not get the initiative supported by the city council.
“You can’t build a hospital with what’s in [the budget],” Gray said. “You’d be lucky if you could build a hospital out of Lego blocks with [it].
Gray, who chairs the council’s health committee, said the money set aside in the Bowser administration’s proposed budget for the effort was not enough.
The current budget sets aside $180 million to improve or replace the aging United Medical Center in Southeast, but Gray called for $300 million to build a new facility and find a private operator for it.
Bowser argued that an operator must be found before the city can commit to funding a brand-new hospital.
During his address, Gray also highlighted initiatives he introduced to address health disparities that would establish a loan fund and cutback on the medical listening process for medical physicians already licensed in several other states to encourage physicians to practice in Wards 7 and 8.
He said though the two wards have a collective population of nearly 140,000, only 120 primary care and specialty physicians practice in those areas.
“It’s unbelievable,” Gray said. “We need to tackle that.”
He also pointed out that there are currently no urgent care facilities in Wards 7 and 8.
“With all of the disparities that exist on the east side of the city, [chairing the health committee] is something I absolutely wanted to do,” Gray said of his appointment to the health committee.
He said his goal is to create an “integrated system of health care on the east end.”