CommunityStacy M. Brown

Gray: Whether it’s ‘East End’ or ‘East of River,’ Anacostia Needs Health System

In a meeting in which organizers noted the District’s continued wrestling with pressing gentrification issues, the Anacostia Coordinating Council (ACC) tackled the question, “What’s in a name?”

The meeting, held at Garden Memorial Presbyterian Church in Southeast, included Ward 8 Councilman Trayon White and Ward 7 Councilman Vincent Gray, who has lobbied to rebrand the Northeast and Southeast quadrants of the city as “The East End,” instead of “East of the River.”

“That’s not one of the pressing issues that we need to discuss,” Gray said.

But civic leaders, stakeholders and others have receive invites to a series of ACC discussions and forums that officials said will “recall a spirit of examination” with regard to the most appropriate nomenclature for what was once an often-ignored area of the District — one that’ snow rapidly evolving socially and economically and has become a prime target of developers.

The discussions, which kicked off May 29, will include historians, academics, professionals and individuals whom organizers said will offer personal reflections with the ultimate hope that the information can influence a “positive course of change and action for self-determination at the local level.”

By using a concrete example in “East of the River” or “East End,” the ACC said it hopes to focus community skills in community engagement in serious dialogue that leads to a positive outcome for all parties involved.

“Gentrification can and will be many things to different people,” said Philip Pannell, ACC’s executive director. “But one thing is for sure — words matter, and the cultural and neighborhood themes, slogans, identifiers and personal and group nuisances, are significant determinants. Hopefully, we can develop a framework that creates community and enfranchisement and not disenfranchisement and displacement.”

Pannell noted that in future segments, the ACC hopes to cover the history of the term, “East of the River,” “East End” and “Chocolate City,” while taking steps to branding communities.

Still, Gray focused on the push to fast-forward the construction of a new 200-bed, $326 million hospital that’s scheduled for development on the grounds of the St. Elizabeth’s Campus. Current plans suggest the hospital could be completed by 2023, but Gray has worked to fast-track it to 2021 at the latest.

“We have an enormous health care issue on the east side of the city and there’s been nothing done to address those many issues,” Gray said. “This is a hugely important issue for me because I see the human and economic consequences of failing to address these issues.”

“You know the human consequences are pretty obvious. And the health disparities that we have, the economic consequences are that we’re spending huge sums of money,” Gray said noting that health care is a larger portion of the budget that education and law enforcement combined.

“People have the right to expect more than what they’ve gotten so far and we want to create a real health care system on the East End for the first time ever.”

Gray said with the closure of Providence Hospital, the new hospital is imperative.

“There’s an unbelievable inequity in this city around health care and when you go west in the District, you have some of the finest health care services imaginable,” Gray said. “But when you go east, it’s not.”

With advances in technology and more than $300 million in the budget, Gray said a new hospital shouldn’t have to wait.

Gray, the city’s former mayor who returned to council two years ago, said despite the struggle he believes things are moving in the right direction.

“Just not fast enough,” Gray said. “When I was mayor, I had $336 million in the budget for a hospital and health care system but after the election (in which he was defeated by Muriel Bowser), that went by the wayside.”

Gray said he’s worked to rebuild that budget and it now contains $326 million.

“We’ve go the money in the budget and I still think we can do this,” he said. “We got it moved up to 2022, but that’s going to be a challenge.”

With that as the “real” issue, Gray said the names “East End” and “East of the River” must take a back seat.

“Whether we change the name or not is irrelevant to me,” Gray said. “The real issue is what we do about the dynamics that we live with every day.”

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