Hundreds of residents braved the torrential rain over the weekend for a town hall meeting to make it clear that a new hospital is needed in the District’s neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River.
The residents gathered at the Union Temple Baptist Church in the Anacostia neighborhood in Ward 8 on Dec. 16 to listen to speakers and to reiterate the need for a state-of-the-art East End hospital and clinic system in Wards 7 and 8. Washington Informer Publisher Denise Rolark Barnes and WPFW Radio personality Ron Pinchback served as co-moderators.
The Rev. Willie Wilson, the co-pastor of Union Temple, told the gathering that the present fight has taken place before.
“In 2000, then-D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams said he was going to close down D.C. General Hospital,” Wilson said with a sigh. “He came here and said that adamantly and we had to rush him out the back door.”
Williams help to shut the hospital in 2001 to help the District financially, with it being the only public medical facility in the city. The United Medical Center (UMC) replaced D.C. General in the eyes of many eastern Washingtonians, but complaints about its bad service and mismanagement have been rampant.
D.C. Councilman Vincent Gray (D-Ward 7) has a bill, the East End Health Equity Act of 2018, that would create a comprehensive medical facility on the campus of St. Elizabeths East as well as health clinics throughout Wards 7 and 8. The bill would have the George Washington University Hospital, through its management, Universal Healthcare Services, manage the East End Hospital and have its beds and operations paid for by building a towering facility that would have over 200 beds at the George Washington Hospital.
George Washington University opposes the tower along with the neighboring Foggy Bottom civic association and the advisory neighborhood commission in the area.
Gray’s bill passed in its first reading in November with only two dissenting votes. On Dec. 4, Gray’s bill hit a snag when fellow council members Elissa Silverman (I-At Large) and Trayon White (D-Ward 8) introduced amendments that would allow workers at the East End Hospital to unionize and let Howard University medical staff and students practice there.
Gray pulled the bill with the knowledge that Universal Healthcare Services would not go along with the amendments.
White told the audience that quality health care service is needed in Ward 8 — now.
“We don’t need a hospital but a health care system,” the council member said. “It is our community that has to deal with high blood pressure and diabetes and other type of ailments. We are overdue for a quality health care system.”
Howard University officials argue that if their medical students don’t have access to the East End Hospital, the college of medicine could lose its accreditation. Nearly 35 percent of Howard Hospital patients come from the eastern part of the city.
Eric Goulet, who works as the director of the Committee on Health on the D.C. Council where Gray is the chairman, said Gray seeks to introduce a measure that would set up a task force for 90 days to help Howard medical students work in other hospitals. If that doesn’t happen, Goulet said, his boss will kill the East End Hospital.
Goulet said if the District government can build a baseball stadium quickly, it can do the same for a hospital.
Former boxing promoter Rock Newman, who sits on the Howard University board of trustees, said his university will fight to be a part of an East End Hospital.
“Howard University’s mission is to serve the least of these when others would not,” an emotional Newman said during the town hall meeting. “When they couldn’t go to other hospitals in the city, they would come to Howard. I am disappointed that city leaders allowed it to get this way.”
Labor leaders such as Edward J. Smith, executive director of the DC Nurses Association, and Wanda Shelton Martin of AFSCME both said the East End Hospital should have unionized workers, with Martin saying anything less would be an affront to hardworking D.C. residents.
Ward 2 Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner William Kennedy Smith, a nephew of the late President John F. Kennedy, said his Foggy Bottom constituents support an East End Hospital but don’t want the tower.
The Rev. Graylan Hagler, senior pastor of the Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ, said “we’ve had to battle, and battle and battle to get the truth from the city council.”
“I am calling out the city council for the hypocrites and liars they are,” Hagler said to applause. “You can’t get a straight answer from anybody.”
The meeting received mixed reviews from the audience.
“I thought it was effective,” said Dr. Debra Ford. “The issues involving the East End Hospital were explained very well. I think that this process needs to slow down.”
However, Ronald Thompson thought the meeting flopped.
“They didn’t talk about a lot of things,” he said. “Whatever happened to Howard University and UMC? I have problems with the whole process. This deal is bad and the people of Ward 8 are being held hostage. This all falls on Vince Gray.”