CommunityHamil R. Harris

Keeping the Faith at the City’s Only Hospital East of the Anacostia River

The United Medical Center on Nov. 9 installed Dr. William J. Strudwick, an emergency medicine physician with more than three decades of experience, as chief medical officer at the District’s only hospital east of the Anacostia River.

Strudwick, a native Washingtonian and son of a physician, headed Providence Hospital’s emergency department and practiced at Howard University’s emergency medicine department, before being named to UMC arrived at a critical time for the 330-bed facility.

“The NFPHC is excited to have Dr. Strudwick join our team. We know his wealth of knowledge and leadership experience will be a valuable asset to the hospital and communities we serve,” LaRuby May, who chairs the Not-for-Profit Hospital Corporation board, said.

The statement of the former Ward 8 council member came as the hospital was undergoing inspection by representatives of the Joint Commission on Hospital Accreditation.

The corridors of UMC are bustling on most days with patients being treated by dedicated doctors and nurses for various illnesses and emergencies. But 2020 has been like no other as the staff treats hundreds every day in a facility that was built in 1966.

From setting up a special ward for COVID-19 patients to upgrading information technology and making other infrastructure changes in preparation for the annual accreditation survey, UMC staff members say that they have to be prepared for all scenarios at the hospital in 1966.

“We did have a uptick of Covid-19 patient in the springtime. We also saw another communicable disease or virus spreading more rapidly than usual, but in general staff morale has greatly support because of the tremendous amount of support that we received from local organizations,” said UMC spokesman Toya Carmichael.

Carmichael said every time there is a challenge the need is met. Since COVID surfaced there have been lots of mini-crises, she said. For instance, when the cafeteria was forced to reduce its hours to accommodate a shortage of workers, the DC Central Kitchen stepped up and provided meals for the staff that allowed the cafeteria to remain open. When the building experienced a blackout, it only lasted for several hours and even when a pipe busted and soaked parts of the hospital, things were fixed.

“It has been a challenging year, but we have weathered the storm,” Carmichael said, “We have passed all of our surveys to date and today our COVID-19 numbers are pretty low.”

The District of Columbia is currently in Phase 2 of the pandemic. As of Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2020 includes 128 new positive coronavirus (COVID-19) cases, bringing the District’s overall positive case total to 18,507. A total of 657 District residents have lost their lives due to COVID-19.

The busiest department UMC is the emergency room and on Friday the staff was treatment scores of patients while administrators were walking the corridors with members of the Joint Commission on Hospital Accreditation.

But one ER manager never slowed down and in keeping with department tradition she didn’t offer her name.

“We have a great team here at UMC,” She said. “Staff are onboard and have been since the pandemic began. We are honored to work with such a great team of dedicated individuals!”

But Carmichael said that the hospitals mission extends far beyond 1310 Southern Avenue. Every workday a staff a nurses and doctors climb into the RV that serves as a mobile medical clinic to barnstorm Southeast D.C. to deliver health care.

“United Medical Center on wheels is a mobile unit where we offer flu shots, HIV testing, general health screening, COVID tests to patients with health insurance,” Carmichael said. “We realize that because of the pandemic many people are not comfortable coming into the hospital, but we were able to give flu vaccines provided by George Washington University because of our ongoing partnerships.”

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Hamil R. Harris

Hamil Harris is an award-winning journalist who worked at the Washington Post from 1992 to 2016. During his tenure he wrote hundreds of stories about the people, government and faith communities in the Greater Washington Area. Hamil has chronicled the Million Man March, the Clinton White House, the September 11 attack, the sniper attacks, Hurricane Katrina, the campaign of President Barack Obama and many other people and events. Hamil is currently a multi-platform reporter on the Local Desk of the Washington Post where he writes a range of stories, shoots photos and produces videos for the print and online editions of the Post. In addition, he is often called upon to report on crime, natural disasters and other breaking issues. In 2006 Harris was part of a team of reporters that published the series “Being a Black Man.” He was also the reporter on the video project that accompanied the series that won two Emmy Awards, the Casey Medal and the Peabody Award. Hamil has lectured at Georgetown University, George Washington University, Howard University, the American University, the University of Maryland and the University of the District of Columbia. He also lectures several times a year to interns during their semester in the District as part of their matriculation at the Consortium of Christian Colleges and Universities.

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