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The site selection study for a new hospital east of the Anacostia River has been completed after more than a year, and it recommends that the east campus of St. Elizabeths be the home of a new acute care hospital.
United Medical Center, St. Elizabeths and the vacant Fletcher Johnson School stood as the three highest-ranking sites in the study of six potential sites in Wards 7 and 8. But the Ward 8 site which currently houses the now-closed St. Elizabeths Hospital prevailed as the most desirable spot for a new hospital.
But Ward 7 Council member Vincent Gray, who also chairs the council’s Committee on Health, said he is not surprised by Mayor Muriel Bowser’s choice and called site selection study “unnecessary.”
Gray said the St. Elizabeths site has been the ideal place due to its size and ease of accessibly via Metro and bus since 2014 when his executive administration spearheaded efforts to build a new East End hospital on the site. He introduced an amendment to next year’s budget, adopted by the council, which legally required the construction of the new hospital to take place on the campus.
“While I am relieved that Mayor Bowser is finally on the same page as me, it shouldn’t have taken her nearly three years to get to this moment,” Gray said.
In March 2014, then-Mayor Gray fully funded the construction of an East End medical center located on the grounds of the St. Elizabeths campus in his proposed budget for fiscal year 2015. Set to be opened in 2019, the Council, which then included Bowser, voted to strip a majority of the projects funding and re-designate it to the existing United Medical Center for upgrades.
Bowser said the site was “carefully selected by the District.”
“The site selection study is the next necessary step in the planning and design phase of a new acute care facility east of the Anacostia River,” Bowser said. “This report moves the District closer to its goal of finding a sustainable, efficient solution that ensures residents in every ward have access to high-quality and affordable health care options.”
But Gray wants to see more progress, accusing Bowser of not making “the issue of health equity for residents of the East End of the District” a priority.
“I won’t accept any further excuses for delays in bringing health equity to the East End of the District,” Gray said. “A new hospital is a great beginning but not a substitute for a first-class health care system which is desperately needed on the East End of the city.”
He said he wants three things to happen immediately: the selection of a private operator for the new proposed hospital, advancement of the capital funding for the project from its stretch of 2023 to the 2018 budget and the development and implementation of a plan that will keep United Medical Center (UMC) accredited.
Bowser said the next move is, in fact, to identify a private partner for the new hospital and has been continuously working with UMC to stabilize the East End’s medical system.
In 2015, Bowser’s administration funded outstanding wage obligations at UMC following at $17 million subsidy request to the city. UMC then worked with the administration to develop a restructuring plan to stabilize operations to avoid future subsidies, with the Bowser administration supporting UMC in the budget for capital investments in the meantime.
Residents of Wards 7 and 8 are currently underserved by high-quality medical facilities. Only 120 primary care and specialty physicians practice in Wards 7 and 8 where the collective population stands at nearly 140,000. There are currently no urgent care facilities in either ward.
The hospital proposal calls for a four- to five-story stand-alone hospital of about 246,000 square feet, 144 beds and 300 parking spaces.
In addition to the new hospital, the St. Elizabeths site will also house an entertainment and sports area that will soon be the home of the Washington Mystics and a training facility for the Washington Wizards. Affordable family housing units, town houses, an office building and retail space are also included in the 19,000-acre site’s redevelopment plans.